Itching to make some kind of pizza, comforting bread or just a floury mess in the kitchen I decided to attack the flat bread recipe in one of my favourite armchair travel cookbooks. This book is a homage to the Lebanese cooking that is integral to the heritage of Greg Malouf, one of the authors. Well over three hundred pages of mezze, meats and sweets. Recipes but much more. A simply written account of a journey back home but also an exploration of Lebanese culture and cuisine as well as those of Syria. There is a real sense of a humbling personal experience and genuine love of the food of the region whether it’s because it evokes childhood dishes served up by aunts or grandmothers at home in Australia or his palpable awe at the prospect of visiting the homeland. But more then that, the recipes are authentic, easy to follow yet challenging, a joy to cook, aromatic, comforting and elegant and a reminder of all the other ingredients out there and ways of making food there are. I judge cookbooks often more by how entertaining they are to read then how useful they are in the kitchen. These recipes are given in a cultural context, with detailed descriptions of each region, different local producers and methods so the reader can take the time to understand where a dish came from, the regional influences and nuances that led to the appearance of a certain recipe on a given page and if nothing else it will transport you to a sunny street in Damascus or a busy Beirut street cafe in a matter of pages.

IMG_0963- Manoushi bread dough – recipe taken from Saha – A chef’s journey through Lebanon and Syria by Greg and Lucy Malouf, published in 2005.

This kind of cooking is the real slow food movement, short cuts not recommended. We’re often talking ingredients not found lying around the kitchen and methods that require a bit of elbow grease. But no matter. Part of the fun is seeking out those ingredients and seeing if you can knead and slice and smell your way into producing something like Aleppo style lamb with a cherry sauce or roasted quail in flat bread with a pistachio sauce. Even just a good home made hummus or moutabel.

I enjoy making bread, kneading far more then is necessary but enjoying the therapeutic process required to make that smooth soft seamless ball of dough from the chaos and mess that is flour, water and yeast.

This bread is essentially a basic pizza dough and is a basic snack food of Lebanon and Syria served either simply with a scattering of sumac ansdĀ  zaatar or used as the base for a hearty sandwich. Sumac is a rusty reddish coloured berry that is dried and ground to make a spicy flavouring for soups, sauces or meat. It is also an ingredient of zaatar which is another condiment made with a mixture of thyme, salt and toastedĀ  sesame seeds, a salty topping for the traditional Lebanese galettes or Manouch’e….use it instead of salt to brighten things up.
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When the dough is ready divide it up into about twelve small pieces. Or as many as you’ll need. The dough you don’t use you can freeze or refrigerate.
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Here is their recipe, keep the dough in the fridge overnight if you’re not ready to use it. Cover it well in plastic when putting in the fridge so it doesn’t absorb any strange flavours or yeasts. Once ready to use, tear off pieces of dough to make mini pizzas in a matter of minutes if you so feel like it…or maybe make one big ‘pizza’….as you wish.

Ingredients
355 grams plain flour
1 teaspoon dried yeast
a half teaspoon salt
a quarter teaspoon of sugar
6 or 7 fluid oz. of warm water
1 tablespoon of olive oil

Making
Mix the flour, yeast and salt. Add the olive oil. Dilute the sugar in the water. Add the water slowly and pull the mixture together until it forms a sticky dough. Don’t worry if it’s a mess and stringy and difficult. Just tip it out onto a floured board and start kneading. Push and fold adding flour or a little water depending on how sticky the dough is.
When you have a smooth tacky but not sticky ball of dough, smooth a little oil around it, cover it and put it in a warm place to rise for a couple of hours.
Then, when ready to use, have your oven pre-heated and roll out and press a small piece of dough with the idea of making a mini pizza, throw it around until it’s thin and stretchy but not too thin.
Spread it with a little olive oil, salt, sumac and zaatar or whatever you wish and bake for about 8 minutes preferably using a pizza stone.