Well, this is embarrassing, isn't it? A full 6 months ago, I told you all about the Middle Eastern herb mixture za'atar, made from a special kind of thyme combined with sesame seeds. And while I meant full well to follow up with a recipe for using za'atar, well, here we are half a year later, and I'm just getting around to it. I know, I'm a terrible friend.
But here we are nonetheless, and you're going to get not just one but two recipes, to make up for lost time. Flatbreads with savory toppings (mana'eesh مناقيش) are a classic across the Middle East- they were my office's go-to take out item, and they're sold at stands on every corner and present at every buffet. Basically, the simplest pizza dough is topped with a variety of classic toppings: za'atar mixed with oil, a spicy tomato paste, a cheese-parsley mixture, spinach, and varieties made with ground beef or lamb. The types of flatbreads are so codified that they are always made the same shape: round for the zaatar and tomato ones, boat-shaped for cheese, folded turnovers for spinach.
The zenith of these flatbreads is a lamb version known as either sfiha صفيحة or lahm bi ajeen لحم بعجين (or lahmajoun). Ground lamb is seasoned with the quintessential Levantine ingredients of sweet-tart pomegranate molasses, warm cinnamon, smoky Aleppo pepper, and sprinkled with toasty pine nuts. Recipes vary slightly, you might see tamarind paste used in Aleppo, and some use fresh tomatoes while I prefer the more concentrated taste of tomato paste (which also holds true to the Armenian influences in this dish).
Mana'eesh (also manaoshe or fata'ir) are the perfect meal-on-the-go type item, but they're also really great for feeding crowds and a fun addition to a party (I like to make them at the holidays, when their red and green colors are particularly festive). You can even start with purchased pizza dough, which will make them that much easier. So I hope you'll take both these recipes as a belated peace offering, and that we can still be friends.
Manaoushe bi Za'atar and Sfiha
Za'atar Flatbreads and Spiced Lamb Flatbreads. Makes 16-24 flatbreads, depending on their size.
for the dough (can substitute purchased pizza dough):
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups lukewarm water
4 cups flour
3 tablespoons olive oil
for the za'atar topping:
1 cup za'atar
1 cup olive oil
for the lamb topping (sfiha):
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 tbl tomato paste
2 tbl pomegranate molasses
1 lb ground lamb
1/2 teaspoon aleppo pepper (or sub half cayenne pepper and half paprika)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
pine nuts, for topping
For lamb topping:
Heat a splash of olive oil in a large skillet. Saute the onions until softened and translucent. Add the tomato paste, pomegranate molasses and stir everything round so that it toasts for about a minute, then add a splash of water (about2-3 tbl) to dilute the mixture. Crumble the ground lamb into the skillet and sprinkle with aleppo pepper, cinnamon and allspice. Cook, stirring, until the lamb is browned and cooked through, 10-15 minutes. Taste for seasoning (salt is not added because of the tomato paste, but use your judgement).
For the dough:
1. In a deep bowl, combine the sugar, yeast, and warm water and allow to proof for 5-10 minutes, until foamy. Add the olive oil and gradually add the flour and salt, stirring with a wooden spoon, until a dough forms. Knead the dough in the bowl, adding flour as necessary to keep from being sticky, until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Rinse out the bowl, lightly oil, and return dough to the bowl. Allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
2. Punch down the dough and divide into 16 balls (for medium sized flatbreads, you can divide into 24 balls for smaller flatbreads). Roll out each piece into a circle, let rest for 15-30 minutes, loosely covered with a towel.
Bake the breads
Preheat oven to 350F. Top the breads with desired toppings, transfer to a baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes (more or less, depending on the size/thickness of your breads), or until lightly golden on the edges. Do not overbake. Serve warm or at room temperature.