Grilled Za'atar Bread
There's nothing quite like fresh bread. I was at the end of a long and hot Meatwave this past weekend, having worked through about five hearty recipes that left all my all guests throughly stuffed when I finally got around the grilling this za'atar bread. I worried everyone would be too full to eat much of it, but it only took mere minutes after I put out the six whole pieces bread for them to disappear—the draw of hot, fresh bread is something I feel like you can always make room for, kind of like dessert. There were so many reasons why this bread was extremely pleasing, but being the cook, one of the best parts was how simple it was to make.
Bread is not really my wheelhouse, so I usually look for recipes to follow when working on a dough-based project. I scoured the internet for what looked like the best flatbread recipes, and ended up choosing Kenji's, from Serious Eats. I feel like I always default to him, but there was really just one difference between his recipe and others—the use of yogurt or milk instead of water. He noted this difference is important to both help add flavor and aid in browning, so I rolled with his recipe with pretty good assurance it would turn out great.
After kneading the dough in the KitchenAid for five minutes, I turned it out on a floured surface and gave it a few final kneads to create a smooth ball. I then let it rest in a covered bowl until it roughly doubled in size, which took about two hours. It seemed like the rising only really took off in the last 30 minutes or so, so if you're like me and worried something is wrong when it's not getting bigger very quickly, just be patient.
After the first rise, I cut the dough into nine equal pieces (I made a recipe and half to feed my large crowd). Then I placed each small ball on a baking sheet and covered them with a damp kitchen towel until they doubled in size, which took another two hours.
While the dough is rising is a good time to get your za'atar ready. I personally have never found this Middle Eastern thyme-based spice mix hard to find, so always buy it pre-mixed, which saves some time and money. If you can't find za'atar around you, don't fret, it's easy to make—you just need to combine three tablespoons of dried thyme with a tablespoon of toasted sesame seeds, a tablespoon of sumac, and a teaspoon of kosher salt.
After the dough was just about finished rising, I got the grill ready, wanting a really fresh, hot fire for optimal bread baking. Once the coals were lit and dumped out, I went back inside and rolled out each piece of dough into a roughly eight-inch circle. I then took the plate stacked with dough discs outside and started grilling, which was a very quick proposition.
I was looking to develop good browned and spotty charring all over, which took about minute or two per side. When grilling the first side, some large air bubbles sometimes formed, which I popped with a knife.
Once done, I transferred the bread to the cool side of a two-zone fire, brushed with olive oil and seasoned generously with za'atar.
I did a stint studying abroad in Israel and became hooked on za'atar bread while there. I now order it almost anytime I see it on a menu somewhere, but nothing can really compare to how good this stuff is when cooked fresh at home. A large attraction was the pipping hot flatbread that was both crispy and chewy, with a nice tang thanks to the yogurt I used to make it with. The za'atar played a big roll, of course, embedding each bite with a great herbal and lemony flavor that was really addictive. It got even better when contrasted with some cool and tangy labneh—basically strained Greek yogurt. It was a super impressive, super satisfying treat for my guests and myself, and really, it was probably the easiest recipe I made that day.
Grilled Za'atar Bread
- Yield 6 servings
- Prep 15 Minutes
- Inactive 4 Hours
- Cook 4 Minutes
- Total 4 Hours 19 Minutes
- For the Flatbread
- 10 ounces bread flour (about 2 cups)
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
- 6 1/2 ounces yogurt or whole milk (about 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon)
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- For Serving
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup za'atar
- 3/4 cup labneh
- To make the Flatbread: Whisk together flour, sugar, salt, and yeast in the workbowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add in yogurt or milk and olive and mix at low speed until dough comes together. Dough should stick to the bottom of bowl as it kneads, if it is not, add in extra yogurt or milk 1 tablespoon at a time as necessary. Increase speed to medium-high and knead for 5 minutes. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times until a smooth ball forms. Place dough in a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise as room temperature until doubled in size, about 2 hours. Turn dough out onto a floured work surface and cut into 6 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball and place on a baking sheet or floured surface, cover with plastic wrap or damp cloth, and let rise at room temperature until doubled in volume, about 2 hours.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange coals on one side of charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill, and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil grilling grate. On a floured surface, roll each piece of dough out into a circle roughly 8-inches in diameter. Place one or two pieces of dough on hot side of grill and cook until browned and lightly charred in spots. Flip bread and continue to cook until second side is browned and lightly charred in spots. Transfer bread to cool side of grill, brush with olive oil and season generously with za'atar. Transfer to cutting board and slice bread into 6 equal pieces. Repeat with remaining dough. Serve immediately with labneh topped with olive oil and za'atar for for dipping.
Adapted from J. Kenji Lopez-Alt
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Bobby Got to make this. Lot of times in northern India, we will also add yogurt to the flour.