Makes eight 10-inch topped flatbreads 

THE MAN’OUSHE (SINGULAR for mana’eesh) is the quintessential street food of the Levant. Wherever you go in the streets of Damascus, Beirut, or Jerusalem, you’ll see professionals, students, families, and their children all enjoying piping hot flatbreads, usually slathered with herbaceous za’atar. They’re eaten while walking down the street on the way to work or school, sitting in cafés, or around the breakfast table. Among my favorite memories in Syria and Lebanon is heading to one of the corner bakeries and ordering flatbreads by the dozen. Slid right out of the oven into pizza boxes, my cousins and I would rush back to an aunt or uncle’s home and devour them without a single word exchanged. 

In today’s Arab world, bakeries offer book-length menus of every imaginable topping. But in the old days, according to my mother, every household would bring their own special toppings to the local baker, whether it was a family-secret za’atar formula or homemade cheese, to bake fresh in the inferno of an open oven. 

I hope to one day bring back the tradition of the “communal oven.” At the beginning of my bakery journey, I obsessed over Barbara Massoud’s book Man’oushé. With its beautiful illustrations of flatbreads, it became my bible as I methodically worked, through trial and error, to perfect my dough. The more I read about mana’eesh, the greater my certainty that these flatbreads were the missing piece in Arab immigrants’ US food experience.


  • 1 recipe Basic Yeasted Dough or Basic Sourdough (recipe below)

  • All-purpose flour for dusting the dough

  • Semolina flour for dusting the pan

Za’atar-Oil Topping

  • ¾ cup Za’atar

  • ¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Divide the prepared risen dough into 8 pieces (about 170 grams each). Shape the pieces

Arabiyya Book Cover Arabiyya: Recipes from the Life of an Arab in Diaspora Reem Assil

into rounds, cover with a dry dish towel (or brush the dough with a bit of oil and cover gently with plastic wrap), and let rest for another 30 minutes. If you are not baking right away, you can also shape and set aside in the refrigerator until you are ready to bake. 

When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 500°F. Arrange the oven racks on the upper and lower thirds of the oven; if you are using a baking stone, remove the lower rack from the oven, place the pizza stone on the floor of the oven, and preheat the oven for at least 45 minutes. 

Place the dough rounds on a lightly floured work surface, sprinkle them with flour, and pat each round into a 4-inch disk. Working your way around the rim of each disk, use your thumb and index finger to pinch the edges and stretch out the dough. (If the dough is resistant, allow the round to rest, covered with plastic wrap or a dish towel, for another 5 to 10 minutes.) Once you have pinched around the whole circle, sprinkle with a light dusting of flour. Continue the process for the remaining disks. 

Using a rolling pin, roll out each round, up and then down once, shift a quarter turn, and repeat the process, dusting with flour as needed, until you have a 10-inch disk. Continue the process for the remaining disks. If space is limited, stagger your disks on top of each other and dust with an ample amount of flour. Let the disks rest for another 5 minutes.

To make the za’atar-oil mixture: In a small bowl, combine the za’atar and oil, gradually whisking or stirring until it is the texture of a viscous pesto. 

Sprinkle a thin layer of semolina flour over an inverted sheet tray and place one disk on it. Spoon about 2 tablespoons (about 1 ounce) of the za’atar-oil topping onto the dough and use the back of the spoon to spread it nearly to the edges, leaving about a ⅛-inch rim. 

Place the sheet tray on the upper rack and bake for 2 minutes, until bubbles start to form and the bread starts to develop a crust. Remove the sheet tray from the oven and, with tongs (or your hands if you dare!), transfer the par-baked flatbread directly onto the bottom rack or onto the stone and bake until the edges and the crust are brown about 3 minutes more. Repeat the process with the remaining rounds. Enjoy it sliced like a pizza or rolled up.

Variation: Za’atar and Cheese Topping “Cocktail” Style

This is a Lebanese favorite, for those who prefer two different toppings on the same flatbread. To make, spread 1 tablespoon of the za’atar-oil topping on one-half of the round and ¼ cup of grated melting cheese, such as mozzarella or Oaxaca, on the other half. Leave a ⅛-inch rim all around. Then bake according to the directions.

NOTE • If you’re feeling brave and have a dough peel, you can also cook the flatbread directly on the baking stone for about 5 to 7 minutes or until the edges and bottom of the dough are spotted and golden.

‘AJEENAH ∙ عجينه

Basic Yeasted Dough

Makes enough for 1 recipe of Arab Bread or Herby Za’atar Flatbreads

  • 5½ cups/770g bread flour

  • 2½ cups/590ml warm water (about 100°F)

  • 1½ teaspoons/6g sugar

  • 1 tablespoon/9g active dry yeast

  • 1 cup/140g all-purpose flour

  • 1 tablespoon/9g kosher salt

  • ¼ cup/60ml extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing the bowl

  • Semolina flour for dusting 

In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl, add the bread flour and then stir in 2¼ cups/530ml of the water. With the paddle attachment on low speed or using a sturdy spoon, mix until it resembles a thick batter. Set aside for 20 minutes. 

While the flour and water mixture rests, stir together the remaining ¼ cup/60ml water, sugar, and yeast in a small bowl. Set aside until foamy, about 10 minutes. At this point, the yeast mix should give off a sweet fragrance and show a bubbly bloom.

To mix by hand: Use your hand to incorporate the yeast mixture, all-purpose flour, salt, and oil into the dough. Squeeze the dough between your thumb and fingers with one hand while holding the bowl with the other hand, until it forms a rough and shaggy ball. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until the dough is smooth, springs back when dimpled, and stretches like a windowpane (see page 61). This usually takes up to 10 minutes of kneading. 

To mix in a stand mixer: Add the yeast mixture, all-purpose flour, salt, and oil to the bowl and use the dough hook to mix the dough on low speed until everything comes together, scraping the bowl if needed. Turn up the speed to medium and mix until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, 8 to 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth, springs back when dimpled, and stretches like a windowpane. 

Form the dough into a ball. Then coat a large bowl with oil and transfer the dough into the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp dish towel and let it rise in a warm draft-free place for 1½ hours or until doubled in size. If you are not planning to use the dough right away, refrigerate for up to 12 hours until doubled in size.

“Reprinted with permission from Arabiyya: Recipes from the Life of an Arab in Diaspora by Reem Assil, copyright © 2022. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.” Photographs copyright © 2022 by Alanna Hale Illustrations copyright © 2022 by Cece Carpio

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