Manaqeesh Za’tar

I always find it amusing when an ordinary Arab ingredient is exotic to Westerners. (And I’m sure I look silly to Southeast Asians for being intrigued by kaffir lime leaves and palm sugar.) It seems that the latest trend is the commonplace za’tar, which is the name for both a variety of species of  thyme and oregano, as well as the name of a mix made with these herbs, salt, sesame seeds, and sumac. On an average morning, it’s eaten by dipping Arab pita into extra virgin olive oil and then into the za’tar mix, often accompanied by sliced tomatoes or cucumbers.

When you have more time in the morning to prepare or eat, you bake or buy manaqeesh (singular: manqousheh) za’tar, a sort of mini-pizza made with bread dough spread with an olive oil and za’tar blend. Of course, this has always been made with gluteny wheat dough. Until now. Behold, gluten-free manaqeesh:

I have yet to seriously experiment with gluten-free baking, so for now I’ve been relying on ready-made gluten-free products when I occasionally want something bready. One day, I’ll develop a gluten-free dough that is suitable for Arab breads and crusts, but for now we’ll use Udi’s pizza crusts, which worked very well, though they make a manqousheh that is thinner than the classic one.

The preparation is simple. Acquire some za’tar, which you’ll find at your local Arab grocery. It may come with the sesame and sumac mixed in, or you may have to add them yourself (in which case, you should pick up some of those too). No Arab grocery in your area? You may find za’tar and sumac at your local gourmet shop, though they are likely to be wildly overpriced. You can play with the ratio of za’tar, salt, sesame seeds, and sumac until it’s to your liking, but it should be herby and tangy. This za’tar blend is then mixed with enough extra virgin olive oil to form a loose paste. Spread the paste onto the crusts, and toast them for a few minutes in an oven that’s been preheated to 450 degrees. You can eat them somewhat crunchy, but they taste better when they are softer. With these crusts, I found that using them right from the freezer yields a more pliable result. Keep an eye on your manaqeesh as they bake; they can quickly get too dry. Eat with sliced or diced tomatoes, which refreshingly counter the herbs.

Note: In it’s classic form, this dish is vegan, and I am labeling it as such. Udi’s crusts, however, have egg as an ingredient. If you can’t eat eggs, use a crust that is free of them.

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