Making It Up: Italian-Greek-Levantine Fusion

Yesterday I got a surprise of fresh mini pitas, ground sumac, and zaatar from my favorite middle eastern store/cafe run by an Egyptian-Lebanese family that the Mister visited on his day off from work. I also had most of a loaf of stale homemade boule (homemade by yours truly) that I needed to use up. So I decided just to make up a weird little feast of Things.

What is zaatar? Zaatar is a spice mixture featuring sumac and sesame seeds. It is very savory, but not spicy. I will be using the sumac the Mister got for me to make my own zaatar, but for this meal, I used the zaatar prepared by the lovely people at our middle eastern bakery.

The pita is so delicious fresh (it was still warm in the bag) that we wanted to eat as much of it as possible. I’ll find something to do with the leftover pitas that will inevitably be stale by today.

I decided to make hummus, manakish, and panzanella.

First I made the hummus.  I used two cans (I’m trying to get away from canned beans, but I do use them sometimes) of garbanzo beans, about 1/3 cup of tahini, 2 cloves of garlic, the juice of one lemon (fresh!), and some salt. After rinsing the beans, I put them in the food processor with the tahini, garlic, and lemon juice. I pulsed it a couple of times and then scraped the sides, redistributed the chunk of chickpea mixture and added some olive oil. I kept pulsing and adding olive oil until I had a smooth texture that I was happy with. I think next time I make it, I will add some toasted sesame seed oil. Anyway, I put the hummus in a bowl and drizzled some more olive oil and sprinkled some paprika and a little bit of cayenne on top.

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Manakish is more or less a Levantine take on pizza. For mine, I put some olive oil in a little dish and added zaatar until I had a nice smear-able consistency, and what looked like a good amount for four mini pitas. I’m sorry I don’t have measurements; I just eyeballed it. I scooped and smeared the zaatar-oil mixture onto the pitas, and then sprinkled chunks of feta around on top. A friend had recommended a salty Palestinian cheese called Nabulsi (it hails from Nablus), but the only salty cheese I had on hand was feta, so I used that. You can also just leave off the cheese. Once the little “pizzas” were assembled, I popped them (on a cookie sheet) into an oven that was already heated to 350-degrees from warming up the bread in preparation for making the panzella.

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Panzella is an Italian bread salad. You can find a lot of variations in cookbooks and online, but last night I made mine more or less from memory. It’s based off the recipe in Moosewood Simple Suppers. I cut my boule in half and placed the halves in the oven (preheated to 350-degrees). Sometimes I cut the bread into cubes first and spread them on a cookie sheet as if I were making croutons, but because I was making several things at once, this method of warming up two halves of the bread was the most economical, time-wise. While they were in the oven, I sliced some red onion, chopped some fresh basil, sliced a handful of grape tomatoes, and put them in a bowl with some pitted kalamata olives. Then I added 1 tbs each of olive oil and red wine vinegar and some salt and pepper. I stirred them up and set it aside while I did some other things.

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When the bread was warmed up and a little crusty, I removed it from the oven and sliced it into little cubes and added them to the bowl, tossing everything together well, and set it aside. I made a vinaigrette to dress it with separately, on our individual plates: olive oil, red wine vinegar, chopped garlic, salt and pepper, and dijon-style mustard. You want more olive oil than vinegar and I added the mustard as I whisked it until I had a nice consistency. Be careful adding the garlic as well. You don’t want it to be too garlicky. I spooned this vinaigrette over the panzanella after putting the salad on our plates.

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All the things were yummy. The hummus was good, but not fantastic. The flavors of the panzanella, however, do not go so well with the manakish in my opinion. however, eating plain pita with the hummus was a reasonable palette cleanser, so it wasn’t a total failure. 🙂

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11 thoughts on “Making It Up: Italian-Greek-Levantine Fusion

  1. Pingback: Sorry, Manny. No Cauliflower, Only Manakish | The Kitchen Billets-Doux

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