There is much to be said about Za’atar, and I want the opportunity to write elaborately. I will revisit Za’atar on another day when my to do list is a bit less overwhelming than a Pacific Ocean tsunami.
For now I am going to keep it simple with a brief intro, a recipe and a method.
While Mana’esh is shared throughout the Middle East particularly the Levant, fteer b’za’atar is, in my opinion, unique to Palestine and Palestinian farmers in particular. The fresh Za’atar is captivating. In its velvety thick leaves there is an aromatic lightness that opens up your heart and lungs.
I think ftayer b’za’atar is an acquired taste. A flavor you grow to love as you age. What I love the most about this is the roundness of the dough mixed with the sharpness of za’atar (Thyme) and the earthiness of olive oil. If you add a tinge of yogurt to every bite, I can guarantee you will demolish one pastry at a time without knowing it.
For the Dough
1 kg flour
1 cup vegetable (or canola) oil
3 tbsp powdered milk
3 tbsp yeast
4 tsp sugar
salt (a generous pinch, go ahead make it a Palestinian pinch)
3-4 cups of warm water
8 generous cups of fresh Zaatar leaves (Thyme Leaves)
1 large white onion finely chopped
1 medium red onion finely chopped
Salt to taste
Olive oil to coat the leaves.
- The Dough: I like to start by activating the yeast. Dissolve the sugar and dried milk in one cup of warm water, then sprinkle the yeast and stir thoroughly. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to ferment. You should start seeing some bubbles forming. In some of the baking books I have seen, you can add a little bit of flour to make what is called a sponge. Here I like to simply activate the yeast, no need to complicate things.
- Add flour into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough handle. Slowly add the oil and mix on medium speed continuously scraping the sides of the container with a plastic spatula.
- Once the oil and flour are well incorporated, you will have a crumbly mixture, add the activated yeast and continue mixing. Add the remaining water slowly until you have a soft and shaggy dough dough. Here you need to be courageous enough to add the water, but observant and deliberate not to turn your dough into a sticky batter. If you add too much water, gradually add 1 Tbsp at a time of flour until the dough is soft but holds together. If the dough is dry, then up the courage a bit, and add more water.
- I like to divide my dough and place into two separate well oiled bowls, but one big oiled bowl will do too. Then cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise for thirty minutes, while you prepare the filling. On cold days, I warm the oven to about 50 C and place the covered dough in there after turning it off
- The Filling: Za’atar smells incredible when it is fresh. One whiff is enough to open up your airways and expand your lungs. Za’atar also collects a lot of soil on its leaves. Wash it under running water until it runs clean.
- Squeeze the leaves well to get rid of access water and place into a bowl
- Add the chopped onions, the salt and drizzle a generous amount of olive oil. Mix together. You want well coated leaves so feel free to add more oil if you feel like it is still dry. Start with a small amount mix and then slowly add more oil as needed.
- Stuffing: Take the risen dough out and immediately cut into balls. Leave them to rise for ten minutes again.
- Oil your working surface (I used a baking pan as my working surface). I coated it with a generous amount of canola oil. Using my fingers I spread the dough into a square/rectangular shape, then sprinkle a handful of za’atar filling in the middle. Fold the side edges inwards, followed by the top and bottom edge. The pastry should now look like a small envelop. Press with your fingers until it takes on a rectangular shape. It is ok if the dough has some holes and the za’atar is peaking through.
- Repeat until all the filling and all the dough are finished.
- Allow the stuffed and shaped dough to rest for another 10-15 minutes.
- Baking: You can bake these in a preheated over (190 C). Or you can cook them on the stove top (I like mine baked in the oven). Oil the baking pans you plan to use and place two to three pieces at a time (depending on size). Bake for 10 minutes or until the bottom is light golden brown, flip and brown the other side.
- Pull out of the oven and allow to cool.
- Serve warm with yogurt, tomatoes and cucumbers!