Zaatar Manousheh The quintessential Levantine Snack

The manouche/manousheh (it is spelled more ways than you can imagine) is the Levantine snack that is most recognizable if you have walked the streets of any Arab town. In Beirut nothing beats the fresh hot mana'ish/mana'eesh (plural) you can grab in the early mornings either from the cart seller or from a classic bakery equipped with a saj grill (see below) or a tannoor, which you may be more familiar with as a tandoor or a pizza oven.

Saj Grill Manakish making

The name mana'eesh comes from the Arabic word Naksh which means to engrave, thought to refer to the indentations made when preparing the bread for baking and the bubbly surface when cooked.

This easy to make street food is most often associated with Lebanon, Syria, Palestine & Jordan but it has permeated the entire Arab world in the constant exchange of people and culture in the region over the centuries.

Ingredients

The Topping: Zaatar

1- Herbs

The dried herbs are the main ingredient giving the zaatar its greenish hue. They are varied depending on taste and regional preference. The usual herbs are either thyme, oregano or marjoram. Usually they are dried but you can sometimes enjoy fresh herbs as well on the manousheh.

2- Sumac

Sumac is the zesty maroon colored spice made from the powdered fruit of the Sumac shrub. It is more likely to be found in the Lebanese version of the Zaatar blend, but it remains a popular addition in many Zaatar recipes.

3- Sesame Seeds

The toasted sesame gives the zaatar a crunch and its warm nuttiness grounds the otherwise excitable flavors of the herbs and spices. 

4- Salt and individual additions

Salt is added to taste and then different regions and households mix and match other herbs and spices according to their own traditions and preferences. A Palestinian addition is often caraway seeds, while some Lebanese recipes call for cumin powder. Other spices added include fennel, anise and cinnamon. You can feel free to mix up your own favorite blend of Zaatar as each family has their secret recipe.

The Bread

The zaatar bread is a pizza like flatbread, also similar to the Iranian flatbread. Again, each region and family has a favorite size or blend but the basic ingredients are: Flour, warm water, salt, olive oil, sugar and yeast.

Some people add milk and eggs but you don't have to.

The video below is one of the easiest ways to make Zaatar Mana'eesh (we leave out the basil though)

Credits:

Created with images by David Jackmanson - "Big Lebanese breakfast at Mockingbird Cafe, Fitzroy North, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia: fried egg with dukkah, labne, haloumi, ham, soujok, zaatar pizza, cucumber, tomatoes, spring onion, and pitta bread. Cropped in Pixlr Express." • Serge Melki - "Manakish zaatar" • Ajale - "sumac lever zaatar pepper" • Hans - "thyme real thyme kitchen herb" • apapac - "Oregano seedlings" • Ajale - "origanum marjoram oregano" • 70154 - "sumac plant nature" • Wendell Smith - "staghorn sumac berries" • jules:stonesoup - "sumac" • Pezibear - "sesame sesame seeds cores" • greatdaneinc - "salt spices bowl" • PublicDomainPictures - "spices caraway seeds"

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