Well, I seem to be on a roll here with Middle Eastern flatbreads. I enjoyed making lahmajouns so much that I decided to tackle another favorite-- flatbread with za'atar and olive oil.
Za'atar originates in the Middle East (I won't invite any controversy by claiming to know where), and can be loosely described as a mixture of herbs, including thyme, marjoram and oregano. The mixture is popular in Lebanon, Turkey, Morocco, Syria, Jordan, Israel and North Africa and within the Armenian diaspora.
There is a lot of debate about what za'atar actually is. Some claim that the word za'atar refers to local herbs belonging to the mint family, such as thyme, marjoram and oregano; some maintain that za'atar is simply a mixture of herbs and spices; while others swear that za'atar is a specific herb now in danger of extinction and illegal to harvest.
While many za'atar recipes call for sumac (red za'atar), the essentials of za'atar are the blended herbs (green za'atar). Whatever the blend, za'atar is used to spice meats and vegetables or mixed with olive oil to make a spread (baked on a dough base for the Middle-Eastern equivalent of a miniature pizza) and can also sprinkled on labneh (yogurt that has been drained until it becomes a tangy, creamy cheese).
I like it on bread and this is the recipe for za'atar I used (I didn't have sumac in the house and just skipped it and called it green za'atar):
2 teaspoons oregano
2 teaspoons basil
2 tablespoons ground thyme
1 teaspoon whole thyme
2 teaspoons savory
2 teaspoons ground marjoram
1/2 teaspoons whole dry marjoram
1-2 tablespoons sumac berries, crushed
1/4-1/2 cup unhulled, toasted sesame seeds, ground coarsely
1 teaspoon of salt (or to taste)
Grind or crush the sesame seeds first and then crush the sumac (separate from the sesame seeds). Then crush everything together with a pestle or the back of a spoon, or put it into a zipper plastic baggie, press out the air, seal, and roll over it with a rolling pin until the desired mix and texture is achieved. It should be a little coarse with the sesame seeds still recognizable-- so don't try to achieve a fine powder.
Flatbread with Za'atar
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast mixed with 1/4 cup of tepid water
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour + more for kneading
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons za'atar mixed with 1/4 - 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Combine the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Work the oil into the flour with your fingers, then add the yeast water and mix until the mixture begins to come together. Add another 1/4 cup water gradually, mixing with your hand until the mixture cleans the bowl and has come together into a slightly sticky dough. Knead briefly on a lightly floured surface, dusting with flour if needed, then cover with an inverted bowl and let rest 15 minutes.
Knead the dough, dusting with as little flour as possible, until it is smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Shape into a ball, cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Divide the dough into 4 equal portions and roll each into a ball. Cover with a towel and let rest 15 minutes.
Preheat a nonstick skillet over moderate heat. Preheat a broiler as well.
With a rolling pin, flatten a ball of dough into a round about 1/8-inch thick, flouring as needed. Dimple the dough with your fingertips to prevent the topping from running off during cooking. Transfer the round to the skillet and spread with a quarter of the za'atar and oil mixture. Cook until the bottom is crisp and lightly golden, about 3 minutes, then brown the surface under the broiler. Transfer to a rack. Repeat with the remaining dough. Serve hot or warm.
Note: this bread is really nice and I will be making it in larger batches without the topping (just flipping it right in the cast-iron skillet to brown both sides) to use throughout the week.