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  • Writer's pictureCulinary Cam

Za'atar Manakeesh #FoodieReads

This post was inspired by reading This Place of Wonder by Barbara O'Neal.


This Place of Wonder by Barbara O'Neal is set in my delicious part of the California coast. Well, slightly further south, but the food is mostly the same. This is a beautiful albeit tragic tale of female resilience.


On the Page


Famed chef Augustus Beauvais has died, leaving behind four different women wallowing in their loss and grief. We have Meadow, Augustus' ex-wife, with whom he built a culinary empire; she is still in love with him despite his series of infidelities and their subsequent divorce. Maya is his daughter who is just out of rehab. Rory is Meadow's daughter and likely the most "normal" of the crew. And, lastly, we have Norah, Augustus' latest girlfriend.


The relationships between these women - mother and daughter, mother and stepdaughter, ex-wife and current lover, and sisters - feel genuine and bring all four women to life in the legacy of good intentions and bad decisions that Augustus has bequeathed to them.


Given Augustus and Meadow's culinary empire, there is a lot of food in this book. And, Meadow lives to feed people, especially her daughters. She says, "Feeding people is my love language, and just now, it makes me feel like the mom of the year. She’s very thin, never so thin as she was when she first came to us after her mother died, but her wrists and elbows are prominent, and I can see her collarbone quite clearly. Her body is no doubt healing from all the trauma, the poisons she’s been pouring into herself for such a long time." Maya calls Meadow's cooking is 'a tsunami of love.'


Meadow remembers, "We ate the meal he’d prepared, all his favorites and mine—pork chops with caramelized peaches, fresh peas, and bread I’d made the night before for this very celebration, spread with herbed butter. We drank wine, and ate a decadent upside-down cake that had been one of the first things he’d ever made."


Maya finds comfort in her one of Augustus' recipes. "Inside I’m simmering onions in butter very slowly, while I crush two dozen cloves of garlic. I’ve been dying for garlic, and this was one of my dad’s best recipes—caramelized onions, a cup of garlic cloves, salt and pepper, and Parmesan cheese topped with cream. The whole room smells amazing. 'What do you think, baby?' I say to my belly. 'Will you like garlic?'"


I enjoyed this novel tremendously. I will definitely be seeking out more books by O'Neal.


On the Plate


I was inspired by the mention of za'atar. It's been a favorite seasoning in our household for years. Years.


The meal is simple, just roast chicken and roast carrots with a spice I’m not familiar with. “Za’atar,” he says, nudging a dish of yogurt toward me. It’s some of the best food I’ve had in months, the chicken perfectly tender, the carrots sublime...

I have always called this Man’oushe. But once I made it and my younger son saw this on the table and declared, "Oh, Mom! You made Manakeesh. I love Manakeesh." Turns out that some of his classmates had made and brought a za'atar-laden flatbread to a class potluck and called it Manakeesh. Fine. Whatever you want to call it, it's easy to make and delicious.


You can eat this just as is, but you can serve it as an appetizer with olives and feta cheese. Or it can be part of a heavier Middle Eastern meal composed of hummus, baba ganoush, meatballs, and salad. For this lunch, I actually served it with a creamy artichoke pesto and brined olives.


Ingredients

makes 4 large flatbreads


Za'atar is a Middle Eastern spice mixture that I always have on hand. It's a breeze to make and adds something fabulous to olive oil for dipping and - I've just discovered - as a spice rub on any kind of meat! My za'atar recipe makes about 5 tablespoons. If you have any leftover (you will), keep it in a sealed jar for future use.


Usually I make this flatbread with yeast. But I tried my hand at making it with sourdough starter instead since I always have that in excess these days. It was a breeze.


Dough

  • 3-1/2 cups flour plus more for rolling, as needed

  • 1 cup sourdough starter (recently fed)

  • 3/4 cup warm water

  • 1 teaspoon salt salt

  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil


Za'atar

  • 2 Tablespoons fresh herbs, pulled off the stem and minced (I used thyme and oregano)

  • 2 Tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted (I used black and white sesame seeds)

  • 1 Tablespoon ground sumac

  • 1/2 teaspoon flake salt

  • Assembly

  • olive oil for drizzling

  • Also needed: baking stone, rolling pin


Procedure


Za'atar

In batches, blend and crush the spices with a mortar and pestle. Leave some sesame seeds whole, if you wish.


Dough

Mix all of the dough ingredients together in a large bowl. The texture will be a wet, sticky dough. Cover and let ferment for as long as you can - between six and twelve hours.


Assembly

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Divide the dough into quarters. Roll the dough out onto a baking stone or baking sheet, using a bit of flour, if needed, to about 12" x 4". Sprinkle each bread with the za'atar and drizzle with olive oil.


Place in the oven and bake for 15 to 17 minutes until the crust is crisped and golden. Remove the flatbreads from the oven when the crusts are golden brown and serve warm or at room temperature.


I served this batch of Za'atar Manakeesh with some creamy artichoke pesto and brined olives. I am linking this post to the October round-up for #FoodieReads. Find that here.




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Wendy Klik
Wendy Klik
Oct 21, 2023

This sounds like a good read. Thanks for the review.

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