Thursday, August 16, 2007

Angry manoucheh

My friend Angry Arab blogged this:

""Imagine wild thyme from Lebanon combined with sesame seeds..." From Lebanon? It shows you how little Jennifer Bain knows about Za`tar. The best Za`tar is Palestinian or Jordanian. Personally, I also like the peculiar Aleppo Za`tar."

which initiated a string of patriotic and vitriolic comments about the origin and comparative superiority of zaatar. Here's what i have to say:

There are 3 different zaatar mixes in the region: 1. Palestinian (was brought to Jordan by Palestinians and then became known as Jordanian), which contains various aromatic herbs: thyme and (i suspect also oregano) and sumac and sesame but that is also lightly seasoned with spices including probably turmeric which explains the yellow color.

2. Lebanese which only contains thyme and sumac and sesame

3. Aleppo, which is even spicier than Jordanian and contains less thyme and more spices, including and cumin. But is it ground too finely for one to be able to distinguish the ingredients.

The three mixes have their own peculiarity and are worth tasting. Most of them are made with zaatar from Lebanon, as Lebanon exports dried zaatar (often illegally) harvested from the wild to both jordan and syria (check the export data from the customs). Most of the zaatar in Lebanon comes from South Lebanon where a combination of soil type and climate contributes to enhancing its desirable characters.

Commercial zaatar of the 3 kinds is cheap and contains bran and citric acid and ground twigs of zaatar rather than leaves. Aleppo zaatar may also contain MSG to enhance the taste.

My personal favorites is either plain dried thyme or good Aleppo for eating fresh with olive oil and bread, and southern zaatar (which i make personally from my own zaatar, sumac and sesame (most sesame on the market is imported from china) for manoucheh. Note that for a good manoucheh you should bake the bread then get it out of the oven and then put the oil-zaatar mix and then place it back in the oven for a few seconds before the oil starts smoking. This is the only way you can use olive oil with zaatar and this is also how you avoid eating burnt plant residues and trans-fats with the heated oil. Of course you can also have it with soy oil (practically all soy in the world is GMO) like all commercial ovens do, or with sunflower oil, which is also imported through corporations and produced controversially, but not GMO. But it doesn't taste the same.

To capture the specificity of Lebanese zaatar mix from Jabal Amel, it is being registered as a geographic indication of origin (as with wine and cheeses in europe) under the name "Zaatar Litani"). Work is also going on to spread the cultivation of zaatar in order to preserve biodiversity in the wild. Small holder farmers in south Lebanon who are cultivating it as a complementary crop to tobacco. The income from zaatar is one of the highest of all crops as the price of the kilo of dried zaatar is around 10,000 LBP ($6.6).


Anonymous said... that meant or have any relation to the name "Manouchehr", a distinctly iranian name? Are you Iranian? Im interested to know the background of this name.

Salem said...

Man'oushé is the lebanese term for the thyme pie. It basically comes from the word "Na'shé" which means pattern or a repetitive thing. The Man'oushé means "something that has patterns" mainly because in the old days, the pie maker used to twist the borders of the pie with his finger as to create a border so that the oil-thyme mix won't overflow from the pie, thus creating a pattern all around the Man'oushé.

It has nothing to do with Iran or Manoushaher Mouttaki.

Salem said...

One more thing, i thought there are two kinds of Thyme in Lebanon, the small rounded velvet leaf and the one with the small narrow pointy leafed.
They can be both eaten without the sesame and spices mix. Thyme salad with thyme, onions, and oil, sometimes rocca leaves. Or just plain green thyme with olive oil and salt.

JOE said...

to all above
Mankouche comes from nakacha.

not only the eedges but all who make it leave the imprint of their fingers in order not to let the bread rise and split in two heights like the lebaneese bread.

Bedouina said...

re: za'atar - the stuff my cousins send me from our village in the suburbs of Sidon is the best. The commercial stuff tastes bland to me.

re: making manoucheh with cold olive oil - so I have been speculating about making manoucheh on the stove top in my American cast iron skillet, which is basically the same material as a traditional saj, but flat with a rim.

Seems to me that if I did so, I could then bake the bread first as you describe, and add the za'atar towards the end, to prevent heating the oil too hot and generating trans fats.

What do you think?

Sophia said...

Miam ! Thanks for this post. Zaatar with olive oil is my favourite.
I have a question. I have currently olive oil brought from our village in Koura. I usually like naturally spicy olive oil but this one is sweet. When I was a child my father used to tell us that the olive oil is spicy when it is new and it matures over time, it becomes sweet. But when I protested to this one saying that it was not the latest harvest, I was told that what my father told me is false and that it is the contrary. Olive oil is sweet when it is new and spicy when it ages. Whom should I believe ? I tend to believe my father because he used to take care of our olive orchards. What is your opinion ?

euroarabe said...

your article was interesting, however, you're mistaken about zaatar being brought to jordan by palestinians.

what is your source on that?