Manakish: The UAE Pizza – A Flavorful Fusion of Bread and Toppings

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Manakish, also known as Manaeesh or Fatayer, is a popular flatbread dish beloved across the Middle East and the Levant region, with a special place in the culinary heart of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This versatile dish, often referred to as the “UAE pizza,” offers a delightful fusion of a crispy flatbread base and a variety of savory toppings, making it a delicious and satisfying breakfast, lunch, or snack option.

Manakish

A Bite-Sized History:

Manakish has a rich history dating back centuries. Its origins can be traced to the ancient civilizations of the Levant, who utilized simple ingredients like flour, water, and various herbs and spices to create a portable and nutritious meal. Over time, the dish evolved, incorporating regional ingredients and culinary influences, becoming a staple across the Middle East.

The UAE Spin:

While countless variations of Manakish exist throughout the region, the UAE offers its own unique take on the dish. The base remains a thin, circular flatbread, traditionally made with a blend of wheat flour and water, and occasionally incorporating yeast for a slightly raised texture. The true magic lies in the toppings, where the UAE shines with its diverse flavor combinations.

Popular UAE Manakish Toppings:

  • Za’atar: This fragrant blend of herbs and spices, primarily thyme, oregano, sumac, and sesame seeds, is arguably the most iconic Manakish topping in the UAE. It offers a complex flavor profile with earthy, citrusy, and slightly salty notes.
  • Cheese: From the classic mozzarella to the regional favorite, Akkawi cheese (a brined white cheese), cheese-topped Manakish is a popular choice for its creamy and savory taste.
  • Meat: Minced lamb or beef, often seasoned with onions, herbs, and spices, adds a hearty and flavorful element to the Manakish. It is a popular choice for those seeking a more substantial meal.
  • Eggs: A fried or scrambled egg placed on top of the Manakish adds a protein boost and a creamy texture, making it a particularly popular breakfast option.
  • Vegetables: Variations with chopped onions, tomatoes, peppers, or olives offer a lighter and fresher option.

Beyond the Toppings:

While toppings are what truly define the flavor profile of Manakish, the cooking method also plays a crucial role. Traditionally, it is baked in a special clay oven called a “saj” at high temperatures. The intense heat creates a crispy and slightly charred exterior for the flatbread base, while ensuring the toppings are cooked through and flavorful.

Making Manakish at Home:

While recreating the authentic experience of a clay oven might be challenging at home, you can still enjoy a delicious homemade version of this dish using your regular oven. Here’s a basic recipe to get you started:

Manakish

Ingredients:

  • For the dough:
    • 2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1/2 teaspoon yeast
    • 1 teaspoon sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1/2 cup warm water
    • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • For the toppings (choose one or create your own):
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • 1/4 cup Za’atar spice blend
    • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
    • 1/2 pound ground lamb seasoned with salt, pepper, and chopped onions
    • 2 eggs

Instructions:

  1. Prepare the dough: In a large bowl, combine flour, yeast, sugar, and salt. Add warm water and olive oil, and mix until a shaggy dough forms. Knead for 5-7 minutes on a floured surface until smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let it rise in a warm place for 1-2 hours, or until doubled in size.
  2. Preheat your oven to 450°F (230°C).
  3. Divide the dough into 4 equal balls. Roll each ball into a thin circle on a lightly floured surface.
  4. Choose your topping:
    • Za’atar: Brush the dough with olive oil and sprinkle generously with Za’atar.
    • Cheese: Spread shredded cheese evenly over the dough.
    • Meat: Sauté the seasoned ground lamb with chopped onions until cooked through. Spread the mixture over the dough.
    • Eggs: Brush the dough with olive oil and gently crack an egg into the center.
  5. Transfer the Manakish to a baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the toppings are cooked through.

Tips:

  • Experiment with different toppings to create your own unique flavor combinations. Some popular options include chopped vegetables like spinach, tomatoes, or bell peppers, or even a combination of different cheeses.
  • If using a pizza stone, preheat it in the oven for at least 30 minutes before baking the Manakish for a crispier crust.
  • Drizzle with olive oil or sprinkle with sesame seeds before serving for an extra touch of flavor.
  • It can be enjoyed hot or at room temperature.

Manakish: More Than Just a Dish

Manakish transcends being just a delicious food; it holds cultural significance in the UAE and the wider Middle East. It serves as a staple food enjoyed at home, a popular street food option, and a dish shared during social gatherings and celebrations. The act of making Manakish, often passed down through generations, carries a sense of tradition and cultural heritage.

Experience the Versatility of Manakish

So, the next time you’re looking for a unique and flavorful culinary adventure, look no further than the humble Manakish. Explore the diverse world of toppings, discover the rich cultural significance behind this dish, and experience a taste of the UAE’s vibrant culinary landscape in every bite.

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