Thursday, January 30, 2014

Making Manouche

My Lebanese friend Lulah gave us this recipe for making manouche (a.k.a. manoush, mamakeesh). While in Lebanon with Lulah, my friend Jane picked up a manouche 'oven' to bring back to the States (no easy feat packing the giant dome in a suitcase). But we are glad she did, because she and Lulah started getting a group of us women together for manouche nights. After these gatherings, I craved manouche for weeks. So I learned to make it at home, without the special manouche oven, to share with my family.
Manouche is a bread dough that is rolled out very thin, then plucked from the heat and often spread with zaatar, a mixture of sesame seeds oregano, thyme, sumac and sea salt (available at Lebanese or Armenian markets.) The Lebanese even eat it for breakfast, sometimes with with lebnah, a yogurt spread. We layered it with fresh mint, tomato, cucumber, onion, olives, and feta. Then we then roll it up quickly, slice it in half while it is still hot, and serve it immediately. It takes some practice getting the texture just right to be able to roll them. If overcooked the bread can get too brittle to roll. But undercooked it doesn't have the snap and texture (soft on the inside and slightly crisp). It doesn't take long before you get the hang of how long to cook it.

Today I am sharing this recipe because my son sent me a text from college this morning asking me how to make manouche. Guess he's got the craving too. They are just that good! This is for you Pete....

Lebanese Manouche Dough Recipe

Combine yeast, sugar, and warm water in small bowl. Stir to dissolve. Set aside for  5 minutes.

In large bowl combine flour, salt and mehleb (optional). This can be bought in Middle Eastern stores. Sold as mahlab, mahaleb,mahleppi, mahlebi.) It's a sweet spice made from grinding cherry stones from a cherry tree native to West Asia. They are  small tan kernels that have a rose scent and a bitter, almond-like taste. Mehleb adds a nice sweetness to the bread and you only need a pinch. Sometimes I add slightly more than a 1/3 teaspoon.

Using two fingers make a well in the middle of the mound of flour. Pour the yeast mixture into hole. Using a fork, gather up some of the flour from the perimeter of the mound and add it to the well. Stir it until it is absorbed. 

Add the milk, mixing the flour into it until it is all absorbed. Then knead the dough using the heel of your hand, punching it away from you. Fold it in half a few times. Move it to a floured surface and knead the bread, rotating a quarter turn, folding the bread, rotating another quarter turn etc. Do for a few minutes then put it back into a large clean bowl. Cover it with a slightly damp fresh dish towel and place in a warm space for an hour to let it rise.

After an hour, remove towel and punch back the dough a few times. Cover and let it rise for another 10-15 minutes. While the dough is rising again, in a small bowl add a quarter cup of zaatar. Pour olive oil into the zaatar to get a spreadable consistency. Set aside. 

When the dough is ready, it can be used, refrigerated or frozen. To use, divide it up into small fist-size balls. 

Roll out on a floured surface using a floured rolling pin. The dough will become more pliable as you work with it.

Get it as thin as possible and plop in into a hot pan. (Traditionally, the Lebanese use a round pillow to stretch the bread out after it is rolled but the same result can be achieved by using a small hand roller once the circle of dough is placed in the hot pan. The dough will tend to shrink and bubble and using the roller quickly will prevent that from occurring making for a nice thin bread texture.) You can use a large cast iron pan or a non-stick one. If the heat is too high, the bread may burn. Cooking it slower often gives a good result.

When the bread looks done it should be pliable but cooked throughout. You may need to try a few before you get the perfect texture. Too crispy and it's hard to roll. Once cooked,  brush each piece with the zaatar mixture. Add fresh sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, and sweet onion. Toss with black olives, feta marinated in spices and fresh chopped mint. You can refrigerate or freeze any leftover dough. When time to roll it out again, just bring it to room temperature to make for easier rolling. 

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