manakish za'atar variations

manakish

A few weeks ago, I flew to Phoenix to celebrate Christmas with my whole big family. We had so much fun playing giant Jenga, hiking, and eating a million delicious tacos. While I was in town, I also got to cook with one of my favorite Assyrian food bloggers, Lisa from Seven Spice Life. We spent the morning at her house making an epic manakish feast, with lahm bi ajeen, and a couple of delicious variations on manakish za’atar (AKA manousheh).

The classic manakish with olives, tomato, labneh, cucumber, and mint was inspired by a trip Lisa took to Jordan, and the California-style one was inspired by all our favorite ingredients (goat cheese, blistered tomatoes, arugula, avocado, and garlicky pickled radishes). We used some incredible za’atar from Lisa’s brother-in-law’s family in Lebanon, and everything was just so perfect.

I’ve got some photos and the recipe for the two manakish za’atar variations below, and Lisa was generous enough to direct and edit a video with all three manakish, including the lahm bi ajeen.

Here’s the base of the California-style one—Lisa had the idea to add the tomatoes and goat cheese to the pizza before baking, which was a stroke of brilliance!

Here’s the base of the California-style one—Lisa had the idea to add the tomatoes and goat cheese to the pizza before baking, which was a stroke of brilliance!

Here’s the labneh going onto the classic tomato, cucumber, and olive manakish za’atar. I love the way the za’atar swirls with the labneh a little, and all the flavors meld together.

Here’s the labneh going onto the classic tomato, cucumber, and olive manakish za’atar. I love the way the za’atar swirls with the labneh a little, and all the flavors meld together.

And now for the toppings!

And now for the toppings!

After the labneh and veggies, on goes the mint chiffonade.

After the labneh and veggies, on goes the mint chiffonade.

How have I never had lahm bi ajeen with lemon before?

How have I never had lahm bi ajeen with lemon before?

It’s a revelation.

It’s a revelation.

Here’s Lisa! We had so much fun talking for hours about family, food, travel, and our mutual love of castelvetrano olives.

Here’s Lisa! We had so much fun talking for hours about family, food, travel, and our mutual love of castelvetrano olives.

Collaboration is such a wonderful thing!

Collaboration is such a wonderful thing!

Thanks Lisa for taking these photos of me!

Thanks Lisa for taking these photos of me!

You can see one of Lisa’s pups running by in the background <3

You can see one of Lisa’s pups running by in the background <3

Lisa made these wonderful pickled radishes, with lots of garlic and zesty flavors. Any kind of pickled veggie would work wonderfully here, but the radishes were just the thing.

Lisa made these wonderful pickled radishes, with lots of garlic and zesty flavors. Any kind of pickled veggie would work wonderfully here, but the radishes were just the thing.

above: classic manakish with olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, labneh, and mint chiffonade below: california-style manakish with goat cheese, blistered tomato, arugula, avocado, pickled radishes or onions, and a little more extra virgin olive oil.

above: classic manakish with olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, labneh, and mint chiffonade
below: california-style manakish with goat cheese, blistered tomato, arugula, avocado, pickled radishes or onions, and a little more extra virgin olive oil.

manakish za’atar variations

manakish za’atar base

yield: 4 small manakish
download a PDF to print

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons za'atar *

  • Salt, to taste (about 1/4 teaspoon)

  • 1 pound pizza dough

  • Semolina or cornmeal, for sprinkling

  1. Place a pizza stone (or sheet pan) on the oven floor, move the oven racks up and out of the way, so you can easily access the pizza stone, and pre-heat the oven to 500° F.

  2. Combine the olive oil and za'atar. Salt it to taste if you're using unseasoned za'atar.

  3. Lightly flour a clean, food-safe work surface, use a knife or bench scraper to divide the dough into 4 equal pieces, and shape each chunk into a round ball.

  4. Roll each dough ball into a circle, about 1/8 inch thick. To keep the round shape, rotate the disc about 90 degrees after each time you roll it out, and be sure to re-flour the surface every so often.

  5. Sprinkle semolina or cornmeal on a pizza peel or thin cutting board. Place one dough disc on the cutting board. Top with about 1/4 of the za'atar mixture (about a heaping tablespoon) and spread it out using your fingers or the back of a spoon. Top with 1/4 cup of feta cheese, if using. Let it rest for about 5 to 10 minutes before it goes in the oven.

  6. Once the oven has preheated, use a quick motion to move the pie from the pizza peel onto the pizza stone. Cook for about 5-8 minutes, until the edges start to brown and the bread is cooked through. The dough should be crispy and chewy, like really good brick oven pizza.

  7. Repeat with the remaining 3 pies.

california-style manakish za’atar

cherry tomatoes + goat cheese + lightly dressed arugula + avocado + pickled radishes/onions + olive oil

Add a few halved cherry tomatoes and a handful of goat cheese crumbles to the manakish za’atar base after the za’atar oil goes on. Bake as usual, until the pizza is cooked through, the goat cheese is melted, and the tomatoes are slightly charred or blistered. Once it comes out of the oven, top with arugula (dressed lightly with oil and vinegar), avocado, pickled radishes or onions, and a little more extra virgin olive oil.

classic manakish za’atar

labneh + olives + cherry tomatoes + Persian cucumbers + mint + olive oil

Bake the manakish za’atar base as the original recipe suggests. Top with labneh, halved olives, quartered cherry tomatoes, large-diced Persian cucumbers, a few sprigs of mint chiffonade, and some more extra virgin olive oil.

manakish

sage and cinnamon chelsea buns

chelsea buns

This recipe was inspired by my friend Abeer, and the beautiful sage she brought me from a recent trip to Palestine, where sage leaves are often steeped with black tea and sweetened with a little sugar. This wonderfully fragrant tea is emblematic of one of my favorite features of Middle Eastern and North African cuisine: in my experience, we don’t treat most ingredients as inherently savory or sweet, but neutral, which means that they can become savory or sweet depending on the context. These sage and cinnamon chelsea buns go wonderfully with a pot of lightly sweetened sage tea, and they are a perfect way to start an October weekend morning.

sage
Chelsea buns
chelsea buns

Speaking of chelsea buns/cinnamon rolls… I recently did an Instagram AMA, where I asked people to write in with cooking questions and problems, which I tried my best to answer and solve, sometimes phoning a friend for advice. So when someone asked how to bake cinnamon rolls that turn out super soft and fluffy, I asked Kate from Wood and Spoon and Abeer to chime in, because they bake the softest looking cinnamon rolls I’ve ever seen, while mine tend to have a more coffee-cake-like texture

I would have assumed that the trick is adding more butter and milk, but there was a clear consensus that if you want super soft cinnamon rolls, the key is to take them out of the oven when they’re still light golden brown, and around 190°F on the inside. The ones photographed here are baked to closer to 200°F, so they’re a little more on the coffee cake side (which I like) but if soft and fluffy is what you’re after, make sure you keep a close eye on them, and pull them at 190° F, or a little above.

Whatever you do, don’t overproof your cinnamon rolls! If you let them double in size, they’ll often end up springing up and uncoiling as they bake. I mean, they still turn out delicious—it’s just a presentation thing. It can be hard to tell whether something has risen enough, but it helps to take a before photo on your phone so you have something to compare it to.

chelsea buns

sage and cinnamon chelsea buns

active time: 30 minutes
total time: 3 hours 30 minutes
serves: 8 buns
download a PDF to print
for a variation, try cardamom swirls

dough

  • 3/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

  • 2 teaspoons yeast

  • 1 large egg, at room temperature

  • 1 yolk from 1 large egg, at room temperature

  • 1/4 cup sugar

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 450 grams all purpose flour (about 3 1/4 to 3 3/4 cups)

  • 5 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

  1. Preheat the oven to 180° F (you will be shutting it off to proof the dough)

  2. Combine the buttermilk, yeast, egg, yolk, sugar, and salt in a mixing bowl. Once the yeast has dissolved, Add the flour and butter and knead everything into a dough for a few minutes in the bowl. If the dough seems a little dry, add another tablespoon of buttermilk and continue kneading; if it seems a little wet, add a couple tablespoons of flour (using a scale to measure the flour takes out the guesswork). The dough will smooth out and look much less shaggy after a few minutes of kneading, although it might still look a tiny bit lumpy and not perfectly smooth (this is fine).

  3. Turn the oven off and open the door for about 30 seconds to let it cool off a little. Cover the bowl of dough with plastic wrap, place it in the oven (again, make sure the oven heat is off), shut the door, and let it proof for about 1 hour. The dough is done rising once it's noticeably larger, and has approximately doubled in size.

filling and rising

  • proofed dough

  • 4 tablespoons butter

  • 1/3 cup raisins

  • 2 teaspoons ground sage

  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar

  1. Roll the risen dough out into an approximately 14 by 19-inch rectangle (do not use flour. While the dough will stick as you roll, it is buttery enough that it won't stay stuck to a smooth surface). Start by flattening it with your rolling pin, and then gently pull 4 corners out to make it more of a square. Pat the top and sides to nudge it into a more regular-looking square or rectangle, and then continue to roll out. It will want to become an oval whenever you roll it, so pull and pat it back into a rectangular shape between rollings. It should be very thin, about 1/8-inch or thinner, by the time you're done rolling it out. Let it stay stuck to the counter to relax while you mix up the filling.

  2. Place the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add the raisins and stir for about 2 minutes, until they have slightly plumped up and softened. Remove from heat and add the sage, cinnamon, salt, and brown sugar. Stir it together and let it cool down to room temperature.

  3. Once the filling is cool, spread it out over the surface of the dough, leaving a 1/2 inch border at the two shorter ends. Make sure the raisins are evenly distributed.

  4. Tightly roll the dough up from one short side to the other short side (you want to end up with a 14-inch-long log, not a 19-inch one).

  5. Use a sharp serrated knife to slice about 1/2 inch off either end of the log.* Then cut the log into 8 equal pieces (carefully saw back and forth—don't just chop straight down or they won't look perfectly round and spirally).

  6. Butter an 8-inch cake round and place a parchment round in the bottom (butter under and on top of the parchment). Place the biggest looking chelsea bun in the center of the cake round, and surround it with the 7 other rolls.

  7. Cover the rolls with plastic wrap and let them proof in a 70° F room for about 1 hour, being careful that they don't over-proof. They're ready to bake once the tops start to look a bit round (like this).** Toward the end of their rise, preheat the oven to 350° F convection.***

  8. Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, until they're golden brown.

  9. Feel free to let them cool and serve them in the pan. If you're going to place them on a cake stand or plate, remove the whole thing from the pan after they've been out of the oven for about 10 minutes (treat them like a cake: loosen the sides with a knife, place a cutting board over the top, flip, remove the pan, place the plate or cake stand, and flip again).

the glaze

30 grams buttermilk (2 tablespoons)
180 grams powdered sugar (about 3/4 cup)
a pinch of ground sage

  • Whisk the buttermilk and powdered sugar together until there are no lumps. The glaze should be free-flowing, but it shouldn't be too runny or it will disappear and become kind of translucent after you pour it. If it's too thick, add a drop or two of additional buttermilk at a time to thin it out. If it's too thin, add a tablespoon or two of additional powdered sugar at a time to thicken it.

  • Once the chelsea buns have cooled off a bit, drizzle the glaze with a spoon, and then sprinkle with a tiny pinch of sage. Serve immediately****

* Discard the ends, or flatten them into a pancake, cook it on the stove, and enjoy while you're waiting on the rolls to bake
** Take a photo before, and then take another one later to compare how much larger they've become.
*** If you’re not using a convection oven, you may need to slightly increase the temperature and/or cook them just a minute or two longer.
**** If you're not serving them within an hour, keep the un-glazed chelsea bun covered or in a plastic bag for up to 1 day, and reheat in the microwave just to warm them a little and take off the stale (in my microwave, about 45 seconds for the whole pan works great). Then glaze them at the last minute. You can also freeze them unglazed and then glaze them after thawing—if you seal them tightly before freezing, these will be pretty enough to serve to company. If you have any leftovers after glazing, you can also freeze these, but they just won't look as pretty after they thaw (great for midnight snacks and decadent weekday breakfasts). If you want them to be super fresh, you can leave the shaped rolls in the refrigerator overnight before baking.

chelsea buns