Monday, March 10th, 2008

Za’atar Bread with Feta and Parsley

Last night I hosted a housewarming party at my new apartment. Each guest appeared at my door toting a bottle or two of wine, a six-pack of beer or the ...

Last night I hosted a housewarming party at my new apartment. Each guest appeared at my door toting a bottle or two of wine, a six-pack of beer or the occasional small housewarming gift. Then, a new-ish friend of mine arrived and dug into her bag a moment. She whipped out a small Ziploc bag with a mound of moss-green, fuzzy-looking dried plantlife at the bottom.

“Um…”

“It’s Za’atar!” she exclaimed.

My suspicions cleared, I excitedly opened the – ahem – little green bag and sniffed deeply. And here I am, less than twenty-four hours later (or twenty-three, if you factor in the daylight savings change) inhaling every bite of this freshly baked Za’atar bread. I’m high as a kite.

You see, Za’atar bread (also spelled Zaatar bread or called manakish) was an old favorite from my eating out in New York days, when I’d occasionally get it from a Middle Eastern restaurant called Zaytoons, which now has three locations in Brooklyn. A large pizza-sized wheel of this flatbread seeped in a savory herb and olive oil topping ran me around five dollars, and it was too much for one person to eat. (I have to confess also that once or twice, on the rare occasion when my ex felt like having take-out, he ordered a huge delivery from Zaytoons and didn’t have room to finish the Za’atar bread; so with guilt I helped him waste not.) Why it had not occurred to me sooner to make it at home is a good question. But once I had the key ingredient in my hands, a new, homemade version was already baking.

seeing green: Za’atar

My friend told me she’d brought back the spice mixture from a recent trip to Israel. But, you don’t have to throw a party and hope someone will bring Za’atar from Israel in order to enjoy the stuff at home. For one, Za’atar is commonly available in specialty or Middle Eastern food stores. If there’s a Middle Eastern restaurant in your neighborhood but not a fancy grocery, you might even want to try out the old pizza dough trick and ask the store if you can purchase a small amount of Za’atar. It’s worth a shot. Speaking of the pizza dough trick, I used just this to provide the bread in my recipe after discovering I had no yeast in my apartment. The local pizza shop was closer than the grocery, so I popped in there instead and bought a mound of raw pizza dough; without having to knead or wait for dough to rise, this was a really quick recipe.

Za’atar, olive oil and extra sesame seeds bind in a paste

The other, and perhaps the easiest, way of procuring Za’atar is to mix it up yourself. Za’atar is primarily made from salt, sesame seeds and dried thyme, marjoram, hyssop, oregano or a mix of these herbs. The word Za’atar can also stand for whichever herb makes up its main ingredient, which varies regionally. I think there’s a faint reddish or brownish tint to the Za’atar in my bag from Israel, and I detect a whiff of cumin. I read on Wikipedia that other spices are sometimes thrown into the mix including cumin and sumac, but I can’t be sure if either are present in my mixture, or even what its main herb is. For the time being, I’m happy to let some things remain a mystery, especially when they taste this good.

The addition of Feta on Za’atar bread is something that I borrowed from Zaytoons, where you could order yours with or without the cheese. The addition of fresh parsley sprinkled on top, after baking, is not. I had tons of it leftover from the previous night’s hors d’oeurves and thought it would make a nice complement. I added some extra toasted sesame seeds, too, since I just like them a lot and have some. I also finished my recipe with a squirt of lemon for a little extra tang and fresh flavor. Za’atar bread has a tendency of being starved for moisture, which makes your mouth gravitate towards the oiliest bits.

a slick of za’atar oil goes a long way

Actually, you don’t need a heck of a lot of olive oil to turn out a really mean Za’atar bread, as I’d imagined. Two tablespoons was plenty to first emulsify the ground herb mixture and then to slather it over the dough’s surface. I personally think that extra-virgin olive oil is one of the most needlessly over-used ingredients in our time, with restaurants pumping gallons into a simple plate of pasta, and television chefs encouraging you to drizzle it on almost everything, extolling its virtues for your cholesterol, your skin, your overall happiness and well-being at the same time. All the same, just remember that one tablespoon holds 120 calories. One hundred and twenty.

pre-baking and showering with parsley & lemon

Za’atar Bread with Feta and Parsley
(makes about 4 appetizer-sized servings, or two main)

half a pie’s worth of dough purchased raw from a pizza shop (or any half-recipe for pizza dough)
1 tablespoon za’atar mixture (see below)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds (optional)
1/2 cup Greek Feta crumbles
1 cup parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

for the za’atar mixture:
(Mix up a lot and keep it stored so you don’t have to with each use. Make sure that the dried herbs are ground first to a powdery, fluffy consistency in a spice grinder or clean coffee grinder.)

1/2 cup dried thyme, marjoram, oregano, or combination
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Stretch out the dough evenly and spread onto a round or rectangular baking pan – whichever you prefer. In a small bowl, combine the za’atar spice mixture, olive oil and optional sesame seeds. Mix with a spoon. Spread the resulting paste onto the dough. Top with feta crumbles. Bake for about 8 minutes, until the edges of the crust are just slightly browned. Remove from oven and top evenly with the parsley and the fresh lemon juice. Cut into wedges and serve.

Cost Calculator
(for 2 main servings)

1 tablespoon za’atar spice mixture (free for me, but going on the homemade version with mostly ground thyme, about): $0.30
half a pie’s
worth of raw pizza dough (at $3): $1.50
2 tablespoons olive oil: $0.35
1/2 cup feta crumbles (at $2.99/lb): $0.50
juice from half a lemon: $0.17
1 cup parsley (at $1/bunch): $0.50

Total: $3.32

Health Factor

Six brownie points: Despite the small amount of oil or fats, this is a salty dish. You’ll want to keep in mind when putting yours together that za’atar is already quite salty, so you don’t want to go too crazy with the Feta, which is salty too, and you also don’t want to overpower either one. That said, fresh parsley is a great source of all your deep, dark leafy green nutrients like Vitamin K, C, A, beta carotene and calcium, so go as crazy with it as you want.

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14 Responses to “Za’atar Bread with Feta and Parsley”

  1. jane says:

    Oh my! That looks amazing.

  2. Michelle says:

    I happen to have a pizza dough in the fridge just waiting to be used and a middle eastern restaurant with a small grocery section within walking distance. Guess my question of what to make for dinner is crossed off the list. Thank you!

  3. Yvo says:

    Yumyumyum… wish I could have been there to eat the hors doovers… (it’s the one word I’ve encountered whose proper spelling refuses to stick in my brain for very long…) sad face

  4. KC says:

    I’ve made cucumber and yogurt salad with zatar but this looks delicious. I’m going to bake myself some flat bread too!

  5. Michelle @ Us vs. Food says:

    i’ve never heard of za’atar, but this looks tastylicious. and is the SIXTH pizza or flatbread recipe i’ve bookmarked in the last week. seriously, interweb, what’s going on?

  6. amy says:

    looks fabulous! i applaud you for not eating out in NY. We’re poor, we live in Brooklyn and we cook alot. BUT, it’s still so hard to not eat out every once in awhile!! 3 Snaps for you! I’ll be back… amy @ http://www.weareneverfull.com

  7. Deborah Dowd says:

    OMG, this looks so incredible! I can’t wait for the weekend to give this a try!

  8. *hk says:

    yay, a cameo!! but i need details on the “pizza trick”- i’m not in on that one yet…

  9. Diana says:

    This is awesome! I made this with romano cheese, since that’s what I had. I also just used whatever spices I had in my cupboard-mostly italian spices.
    It rocks! It’s very versatile too-you can make this so many ways!

  10. cathy says:

    Yo hk: The ‘ol “pizza trick” is when you want to make a wonderful homemade pizza (or Za’atar Bread, as it would now seem) but are short on time, so you walk into a pizza shop, ask to buy just raw dough, get an amused chuckle from the pizza man, and pay $3 tops for a round of dough big enough to make a large pie. It’s fun!

  11. Alyse says:

    The brownish cast probably came from the sumac – sumac is a brownish redish color – and is frequently used to add a nice citrus flavor the Zatar. When I purchased it in Israel it all had Sumac in it.

  12. Holiday Cyber Tuesday #1: APPETIZERS « New in the Kitchen says:

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  13. Za’atar Recipes, Continued « FOOD IS WHAT I DO says:

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