Za’atar Manaeesh

Mini Za'atar Manaeesh

Za’atar manaeesh were my go to ‘fast food’ breakfast when I lived in the United Arab Emirates. With bakeries at every corner, getting a few of these on our way to school in the morning was an easy and delicious way to get breakfast in. I didn’t realize how much I loved the flatbreads covered in za’tar (a spice mix) until I immigrated to Canada.

Suddenly, I was on a quest to find the best manoosheh (singular form) and all the nearby options I found were less than satisfactory. Why was it so oily? Why is the za’tar so salty? Why is the bread soggy? ūüė¶ When I finally did find an acceptable place to buy them in¬†Mississauga, I still missed the convenience of being able to have manaeesh without having to drive out of my way to get them.

What’s a girl to do? Make them herself of course! Or, get her mom to make them, hahaha. First thing’s first, what is za’atar? It’s both the name of wild thyme, and the mixture made from the thyme which includes sesame seeds, sumac,¬†salt and of course thyme. Now, the actual ratio of the mix is something that changes from household to household and bakery to bakery. Every person will take pride in their special za’atar. That being said, you can buy pre-made mix from any Middle-Eastern grocery store.

Packaged Za'atar

I would be lying if I said the store-bought stuff is as good as the hand-picked mix you can get if you know someone in the motherland, but it’s as close as one can hope to get. There are many types of za’atar, red, green, Lebanese and Jordanian, etc.; I usually get the green Lebanese, or I ask the store owner, or the friendly looking mom, what the best option is :D.

All you have to do once you have the mix, is mix it with some good olive oil and spread it over a flatbread, toast it and you’re good to go! If you’re so inclined, you can make your own flatbread, but for a quick breakfast, slathering some za’atar onto a thick, store-bought pita and toasting it in the oven works just as well. I’m reluctant to include a recipe, because there’s nothing to it really, but here you go:

Makes 5 large Mana’eesh

To make the za’atar paste:

  • Equal parts olive oil & za’atar mix (about half cup of each is good for this recipe)
To make the dough (or just use use store-bought pita):
  • 1 rounded teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose or bread flour (you can use whole-wheat)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
In a small bowl, mix the olive oil and za’atar mix to make a paste. Depending on how much you use on you mana’eesh, you may need to make more (just add equal parts of za’atar and oil). Set aside.
To make the dough, dissolve the yeast and sugar in a 1/4 cup of water and set aside for the yeast to work it’s magic. Bubbles and foam will appear.
Meanwhile,  put the flour in a large bowl and make a depression in the middle. Add the olive oil to the middle and work it in the flour with your fingers. Add the yeast mixture and then gradually add 1 cup water, knead until you have one big sticky ball of dough.
Transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead, adding a few tablespoons of flour at a time, until you get a dough that is smooth and does not stick. This should take about 5 minutes. Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover. Place in a warm place for about an hour for it to rise.
To make the mana’eesh. Divide the dough into 5 equal balls. Flatten each ball into a circle with a rolling pin or your fingers. The thickness is entirely up to you, I prefer a bit of a thicker man’oosheh myself.
Divide the za’atar paste amongs the 5 mana’eesh circles and spread with the back of a spoon. Place on a pizza stone or baking sheet in an oven preheated at the highest temperature. Bake for about 5 minutes until the edges just start to get golden brown.
Enjoy!
Top Tip: You can also make these on the grill. For an even easier recipe just skip the dough making and spread za’atar mix on a thick, Greek style pita. You can also freeze any leftover mana’eesh.
Change It Up:¬†Top your mana’eesh with feta, tomatoes, mint, olives, scallions or any combination you would like!

Did You Know: That children in Lebanon are always encouraged to have a za’atar manoosheh before an exam? Apparently, za’atar is good for the memory. Sounds like a perfect excuse to have me some mana’eesh over the next few weeks!

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You Say Falafel, I Say Ta’meya

You say falafel, I say Ta’meya, we all say delicious! Well, at least I hope we all say delicious :D!

Mmm-mmm-mmm Ta'meya!

Although a few of you out there may have tried falafel (it is, after all, increasing in popularity in Canada), I doubt very many have tried the Egyptian version. You see, while the rest of the Arab world generally makes falalfel with chickpeas, Egyptians use fava beans to make the mixture. Oh, and we tend to call the delicious fried nuggets of goodness Ta’meya. Which is better? Well, my very biased opinion says that fava beans are the way to go! I find fava bean based ta’meya to be lighter and fluffier than their chickpea based cousin. Also, fava bean ta’meya tend to be a vibrant green on the inside and that just makes me feel better about eating a fried food item :D. ¬†Green is good, right??

Mama always told me to eat my greens.

Ta’meya is one of the many popular street-foods in Egypt. Wake up any morning and grab yourself a ta’meya¬†sandwich¬†with Tahini and vegge (tomatoes,¬†parsley, pickles, parsley) and you’ve got yourself an excellent start to your day. Personally, I’m a little lazy and have my¬†sandwiches¬†delivered for about 25 cents extra; sweet, sweet, cheap delivery – how I miss thee!

Here in Canada, my mom makes huge batches of the ta’meya mixture and then stores them in ziplock bags in the freezer. Whenever we want ta’meya, she’ll take a bag out to defrost overnight and then fry it up in the morning. Those are the days she finds us suddenly setting the table, helping out in the kitchen, heating up the pita…you know, ¬†speeding up the process so we can get to the eating part, hahaha!

So, without further ado, here’s the recipe for you to try out for yourself:

Makes about 30 ta’meyas

  • 2 cups dried split fava beans
  • 1 bunch leeks (washed well)
  • 1/2 bunch parsley
  • 1/2 bunch corriander
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Vegetable oil (for frying)

Soak the beans in water overnight in a large bowl. In the morning, drain off the excess water and then pulse in a food processor with all ingredients, save for the baking powder and sesame seeds, until smooth.

Only add the baking powder when you are going to fry the ta’meya. If you’re going to freeze the mixture, add baking powder once it has defrosted.

Heat the oil for frying and make little patties out of the mixture (sometimes it helps to lightly oil your hands so that the mixture doesn’t stick). Dip one side into the sesame seeds and then fry until it is a golden-brown colour.

Enjoy with some pita and your choice of sanwhich stuffing. Personally, I go with tomatoe slices and some feta cheese- yum!

Note: Dried fava beans have yet to hit the mainstream, so you’re best bet for finding them is at your friendly neighborhood Middle-Eastern grocery store.

Did You Know: ¬†Ta’meya is considered the national dish of Egypt (along with koshari, but that’s for another post). While many nations try to lay claim for this dish, most food historians theorize that it’s origins are indeed in Egypt, where Coptic¬†Christians consumed it as a¬†vegetarian¬†meal during lent. When ¬†ta’meya travelled to other countries via the ports in Alexandria, chickpeas were¬†substituted¬†for the fava beans. Interesting! Source:¬†http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falafel

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Shakshooka

Behold, shakshooka!

Shakshooka

This dish is common across all of North Africa and is as diverse (there are as many versions as there are cooks!) as it is flavourful. I’m told by my mom that the dish is originally Tunisian, which makes sense because, according to Wikipedia, the word shakshooka means “a mixture” in the Berber language used by many peoples in North Africa (including Tunisia,¬†Morocco¬†and the¬†Oases¬†of Egypt).

I find shakshooka an especially comforting dish to have on cold winter mornings :). ¬†It’s essentially eggs poached in tomatoes,¬†peppers, onions, salt, pepper and a hint of cumin. ¬† The version you see in the picture above is topped with some feta &¬†coriander; yum!

Since the dish is so simple, it’s important to use the best possible ingredients that you can, ¬†this usually translates into the freshest. I say usually because, I don’t know about you, but I’ve yet to find a fresh tomatoe in the Canadian winter months that doesn’t take like plastic; not so yummy! In that case, canned tomatoes it is! In Egypt though, nothing beats getting your tomatoes farm-fresh, sun-kissed and off of a donkey-cart.

Taken from my balcony in Egypt: your friendly neighborhood grocer on wheels. I see those tomatoes!

Don’t get me wrong though, you can still purchase all your grocery needs from a modern grocery store in Egypt, I just prefer the donkey cart method for a number of reasons. Consider this: I lose at least 10lb every single time I go to Egypt for the summer! ¬†When I thought about why this was, even though I spend my summer indulging for all intents and purposes, I realized it was because of the lack of “junk ¬†food” in my diet. Sure, you can get chocolate, chips and candy in Egypt, but it is much easier to avoid temptation. There’s no aisle of doom when you buy your produce from the veggie-man and your meat from the butcher!

No chips in sight. My mom picking out some fruit from a road-side stand.

There I go digressing again; I just have so much to share with you all! Anyway, back to the shakshooka, here’s a recipe for you give it a go:

Serves 4

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 (28 ounce) can whole peeled plum tomatoes with juice (or fresh, when in season)
  • 1 teaspoon paprika (or to taste)
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin (or to taste)
  • Salt (to taste- if using canned tomatoes you may not need extra salt)
  • 4 eggs
In a deep skillet, heat the oil on medium heat and then saute the onion, green pepper and garlic until the onion starts to become translucent. Add the tomatoes and seasoning, crushing the tomatoes with a fork or the back of a spoon. Let the tomatoe mixture simmer, uncovered, for about 25-30 minutes.
Crack the eggs on top of the tomatoe-sauce and let cook until the level of doneness you like. Personally, I like my yolks a little runny.
Serve rustic style in the skillet with pita bread to mop up the tomatoe-sauce. Yum!
Change it up: Add¬†jalapenos, parsely, coriander, feta, different coloured peppers, take away the onion, add more onion – hey, a recipe is just a guideline! ūüôā
Did you know: Egyptian records indicate that man collected eggs from fowl as far back as 4000 B.C., neat! Source: http://www.incredibleegg.org/egg-facts/basic-egg-facts/history-of-egg-production/from-ancient-times

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Hummus

I'm suddenly in the mood for hummus. Looks delicious!

Let me start by saying that, alas, hummus isn’t really Egyptian. The patriot in me is a little upset that my ancestors didn’t come up with this king of dips, but I guess we have to leave something to the rest of the world. Also, ¬†I must confess, my mom never really made it at home ; she considered it beyond her level of expertise, which baffles me considering how easy it is to make!

Hummus is, however, Middle-Eastern and did play a¬†prominent¬†role in the breakfasts I had at my Palestinian friend’s homes. Until recently, when I felt like having me some hummus, I did what most Canadians would do – I grabbed a tub of ready-made hummus off a shelf at my friendly neighborhood grocery store. ¬†That was until I visited a very dear childhood friend in Texas last year. Now, apart from being super sweet and amazing ( I gave her the link to this blog :)), my friend is also ridiculously¬†intelligent. This girls is doing her PhD in engineering at one of the top schools in the country! If she has time to make hummus from scratch, trust me, you do to.

Why make it though? First and foremost, it’s delicious & easy to make. Second, it’s good for you. Hummus is¬†mainly¬†made from chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, which are a legume. Combine it with a grain (Aish Baladi) and you have a complete (cheap!) protein. Oh and the fibre, the glorious fibre, nutritionists are always harping on us to eat more of that, right? Just half a cup has about 7.5 grams of fibre¬†, and that’s without having it with whole-wheat bread ;). Last but not least, it is incredibly versatile. I use it in¬†sandwiches¬†instead of mayo, as a dip for veggies and as a meal in its own right.

I don’t know about you, but I’m really in the mood for hummus right about now. So, without further ado, ¬†here’s a recipe:

Note:¬†I used canned hummus for ease, however, it is very easy (and cheaper!) to use dried beans. Just place the dried chickpeas in a pot of boiling water (giving it looooooots of room, because it will expand) and be prepared for a little bit of an odour as it cooks off. Also, froth will begin to form on the top of the water, just scoop that off as it cooks. It’s ready when it’s fork tender. Use it in the recipe once it has cooled.

    • 30 oz can of drained chickpeas
    • 1/2 cup of chickpea juice (reserve when you drain)
    • Juice of 2 lemons or more
    • 2 cloves of crushed garlic
    • 2 tbsp of sesame seed paste (tahini*)
    • 2 tbsp of olive oil
    • 1 tbsp cayenne pepper
    • 1 tbsp of cumin powder
    • 1/2 tsp of salt
    • paprika (optional)

Blend everything together in a blender and serve chilled drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled    paprika for garnish.

Keeps in the fridge for a few days. Enjoy!

Change it up: Add or remove spices as you wish, add toppings like pitted olives, roasted pine nuts, chopped tomatoes/parsley, scallions,  add roasted garlic or red-pepper to the mix Рlet your imagination run wild!

Did You Know: It’s called Hummus in Arabic because the chickpeas themselves are called hummus? Also, the largest dish of hummus ever made was in May 2010, in Lebanon, made by 300 cooks and weighing in at 10, 452 Kg, wow! Source:¬†http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hummus

* You can get Tahini from most grocery stores these days. Just look in the international section. The oil may have¬†separated¬†from the paste, but don’t worry, just give it a good stir before you use it.

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Laban

Absolutely refreshing!

After the last word heavy post, I thought I’d go with something light. Something light, something light, I thought….hmmmmm. Then it hit me! A post about laban!

What’s laban? Well, in most of the Arab world, laban is the word for yoghurt. In Egypt, however, it’s the word for milk. BUT, as an Egyptian that grew up in the gulf, laban to me is a nice, smooth, light drink, made from yoghurt, but sold in jugs like milk. Confused yet? ūüėÄ

Store-bought Laban

Arabic 101 aside, all you need to know is that this drink is great. Full of the goodness of yogurt (probiotics, anyone?) and absolutely refreshing, this drink can be found all over the middle east. It’s especially good on a hot summer day.

Recipe:

  • 1.5 cups plain yogurt
  • 0.5 -1.5 cups cold water (depending on the¬†consistency¬†you want)
  • 0.5 teaspoon salt

Put the yogurt and salt in the blender. Add a little bit of water at a time and blend until you reach the consistency that you like.

Change it up: Add fruit & honey to sweeten (any kind you like), or add some mint for a super refreshing twist.

Drink up!

Here’s a youtube video that might give you a better idea of what the drink should look like. She also uses a spoon instead of a blender :).

Did you Know: The word¬†yogurt¬†¬†is derived from the Turkish word¬†yońüurt, coming from the verb¬†¬†yońümak,¬† which means ‘to be curdled or coagulated; to thicken’? Also, the¬†earliest¬†record of yogurt in 500 BCE, calls a yogurt and honey mix “The food of the Gods”, neat! Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoghurt

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Egyptian Pita / Aish Baladi

Aish Baladi, very fresh & still puffed up!

If you ask me about the single most food item I miss from Egypt, it would have to be the bread. Egyptian pita bread, or Aish Baladi, is the cornerstone of Egyptian cuisine. It’s not only a major¬†component¬†of the meal itself, but bread is also widely used as a utensil; hey, I’ll use delicious bread over a fork and knife any day!

What’s so special about Aish might you ask? Well, for one thing, aish baladi is unique to Egypt. Sure, you can get pita all over the Middle East and now worldwide, but Egyptian pita is something else. For one thing, it’s made fresh several times a day all throughout the country. From the farmer’s wife baking it in a traditional clay oven, to your¬†neighborhood¬† bakery churning it around the clock, there’s no reason to have stale pita in Egypt. The pita itself is unique in that it is 100% whole wheat, a nutritionist’s dream. It’s thick and airy on the inside, and has¬†speckles¬†of cracked-wheat throughout. ¬†Oh what I would do for a feta & tomatoe ¬†sandwich¬†in a¬†pita heated over a gas-flame*.

Egyptian woman baking aish in a traditional clay oven.

You might think that I’m exaggerating abut the wonderful nature of this bread, but readers, I have had aish smuggled into suitcases and flown across the world for me. Well, I’m not sure if smuggled is the right word…it’s not illegal is it? I hope not. I’m sorry customs Canada! ūüôā Anyway, I digress, back to the bread!

Here’s a recipe so you can try it for yourself:

Makes 16 pitas

  • 2 teaspoons dry yeast
  • 2.5 cups lukwarm water
  • 5-6 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 tabelspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon oil

In a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water. Stir to dissolve. Stir in 3 cups of flour, one at a time and then stir about one minute to activate the gluten. Let this mixture (called sponge) rest for at least 10 minutes, and up to two hours.

Sprinkle the salt over the sponge and stir in the oil. Mix well. Add more flour, one cup at a time, until the dough is too stiff to stir. Turn it out onto a slightly floured surface and knead 8-10 minutes until smooth & elastic. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl,  cover and place in a warm place to rise (approximately 1.5 hours).

Once the dough has doubled in size, punch it down and divide it in half. Divide each half into 8 equal pieces and flatten each piece into a circle less than an 1/4 inch thick.

While you allow the circles to rise again (covered), preheat your oven to the highest setting. On a pizza stone (preferred) or baking tray in the middle rack, place as many dough rounds as you can comfortably fit on it (leave a few inches space between each round). Bake for two to three minutes until the bread has puffed up like a balloon.

Enjoy!

P.S. I know 16 pitas seems like a lot, but these freeze very well :).

Did you know: The earliest wheats and the first breads are generally believed  to have originated in the Eastern Mediterranean? And that the earliest traces of grains cooked into flatbreads are in Egypt?

Did you know #2: Bread is also an important political issue in Egypt. It is heavily subsidized by the government and was even at the forefront of the recent revolution, “Bread, Freedom & Social Justice” was a key demand/ chant for¬†protesters.

* That’s how we traditionally heat up the pita to make it all warm and toasty. Makes a mess of the stove because the bran gets everywhere, but it’s so delicious, it’s worth it.

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Welcome!

We’re always told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. After all, you are literally “breaking the fast” of the night before and kick-starting your metabolism.

Growing up as an Egyptian in the UAE, and having been blessed with a stay-at-home mom with a passion for all things culinary, ‘exotic’ breakfasts were my every day. My wonderfully scrumptious every day, that is!

Although ¬†a lot of what was ¬†once exotic (hummus, falafel, pita), has now entered mainstream Canadian culture,¬† most Canadians still haven’t the foggiest of how to prepare these items from scratch, with fresh, wholesome ingredients.

And that’s where I come in. In the spirit of injecting some excitement into your breakfast routine, and in an attempt to make my mama proud, join me as I relive some of the breakfast foods of my youth. I promise a bit of history, a lot of recipes and, of course, many pictures!

Speaking of pictures, I’ll start with the header of this blog. It’s a picture of¬†my brother, his wife and I in Egypt. Oh and we’re just about to dig into our breakfast of course ūüėÄ Now there’s a breakast I’d love to relive :D! And, speaking of Egypt…

Did You Know: In Egyptian, the word for bread is “aish”, which means “life”? It should be no surprise then that my very first recipe post will be dedicated to making homemade pita bread; the backbone of a proper Egyptian breakfast. Stay tuned!

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