There is one thing I would never want to miss during my visit to family in Lebanon: Manakish!
Just thinking about the delicious pancakes with za'atar topping, for example, makes my mouth water. I can't imagine anything better for breakfast.
When I'm in Lebanon, my aunt stirs the za'atar mixture, decants it into a Tupperware container and sends me to the bakery with it.
The baker's credo might be, "You bring the topping, I have the dough and the stone oven." So then I walk through Aley with the little Tupperware in my hand - and a growling stomach.
Aley: The City of Clouds
Most of my family on my mother's side lives in Aley. The small town in the mountains is about 16 km east of Beirut - directly on the way to Damascus. Tourism plays a very big role in Aley. In summer, the sheikhs of the Arabian Peninsula like to spend their holidays in the "city of mist". Due to its location in the mountains, it often happens that the entire town disappears in the clouds.
Compared to Beirut, the climate is less hot and humid, but still wonderfully summery. That's why Aley is also often called "Ahruß il Saif" - the bride of summer. And so the air of the summer evenings is filled with music and the smell of food and perfume is everywhere.
When I arrive at the bakery, I get in line. There are usually already a few neighbours waiting with their Tupperware while the baker rolls out the fresh yeast dough, presses small depressions into it with his finger syringes and spreads it with the toppings I brought along.
It all goes so quickly! No sooner have I handed over the zatar mixture than it's on the dough patties and then quickly in the oven. The smell is intoxicating! By the way, there are several variations of manakish that I would like to introduce to you very soon. But the version with za'atar is the classic.
The sound of the oven pusher as it slides along the floor of the stone oven and pulls the delicious dough patties out of the fire makes my stomach growl. The baker nimbly and deftly wraps the manakish in bread paper and presses the warm and fragrant package into my hand. On the way back to my aunt's, a mankushi (singular to manakish) always gets lost 😉
Recipe for Manakish
- Make the dough according to the recipe and let it rise covered for 60 - 90 minutes. (but do not bake yet, just prepare the dough!).
- Mix the za'atar with the olive oil and chopped onion to make a liquid dip.
- After the dough has doubled in size, divide it into a corresponding number of equal pieces and shape them into small balls. Then leave to rest under a damp kitchen towel for another 10 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 250 °C top and bottom heat. (If you have a pizza stone, preheat it on the lowest shelf).
- Line baking trays with baking paper. Or use a pizza stone.
- Roll the dough balls round with a rolling pin and press many small depressions into the dough with your fingertips.
- Spread a thin layer of the zatar oil mixture on the patties.
- Bake the manakish for about 4 - 5 minutes in the lower part of the oven.
If you want to learn more about Levantine cuisine, check out my guide.