Za’atar focaccia and my garden project #BreakingBread

by Sarah on May 27, 2012

za'atar focaccia

After three years of neglect our garden is finally starting to take shape. With an ongoing drought, maintaining out lawn seemed like an outrageous excess and we slowly let it die away. Aside from incompatible weather, our dog destroyed the drip irrigation system, ripped out plants and gleefully dug holes in every corner. Last winter we began the slow and arduous process of reclaiming our yard Robinson Crusoe style. We hauled bails of soil, lugged railway lumber on a skateboard contraption and moved boulders with homemade wooden levers.

We still plan on putting a new lawn in but it will be much smaller. Instead, the vegetable and herb garden will be expanded considerably using seasonal and drought tolerant plants. The biggest change however is putting in a gray water recycling pool thanks to our neighbors, Amir and Tamar, amba loving experts on eco-friendly living. They built a comprehensive system to siphon the gray water into a large pool in their backyard which Amir camouflaged with water plants. It’s a heck of a lot of work but if we can reduce our water usage without turning the yard into a cactus display that’s motivation enough for me. We’ve already dug a Jacuzzi sized hole in the back of the house, a step in the right direction, and will be pestering Amir with questions on how to proceed.

za'tar focaccia

Meanwhile, I’ve started planting seedlings- mainly herbs, as well as tomatoes and peppers, flowers and a set of jasmine vines. Hopefully in the coming months (or years, who knows), we will connect our modest potager garden to the new and improved irrigation system. Our neighbors (the other ones who believe deciduous trees are a nuisance) can still look smugly into our side, but eventually we’ll have a pretty little place.

In the upcoming months I’ll be using a lot more herbs in my everyday cooking such as the following focaccia recipe. It is my contribution to the Bread Baking Society established by Shulie of Food Wanderings, Lora of Cake Duchess and Marnely of Cooking with Books.

zaatar in bloom , fresh zaatar leaves

Zaatar plants, new growth of wild zaatar in winter and zaatar in bloom in my garden in late May

Za’atar  focaccia

This is an Italian version of the Arab maneesh (or perhaps an Arab version of focaccia), flat brad topped with za’atar mix, popular at roadway stands and bakeries in Israel and the Middle East. It is also known as manqoushe in Lebanon. Here I used both fresh (Majorana syriaca) and dried za’atar.

4 cups of high gluten bread flour

2 teaspoons dry yeast

1 ¾ cups water

1 teaspoon salt

2-3 tablespoons za’atar mix

A handful of fresh za’atar leaves

2-3 tablespoons of olive oil

In a mixer equipped with a hook attachment add the flour and 1 ½ cups of water. Begin mixing on low until the dough comes together in a shaggy mess. Let rest for 10-20 minutes (this is the autolyze stage which allows the flour to hydrate more efficiently, expanding the gluten and reducing kneading time). Add the salt and if necessary the rest of the water (each batch of flour absorbs differently). Knead until the dough is smooth, pliant and slightly damp. To test take a small piece of dough and stretch it between the fingers. If a “window” is formed, the dough is ready. Coat the dough with a thin layer of olive oil and cover with plastic wrap. Place in a warm place until the dough has doubled (this takes about two hours).

zaatar focaccia

Preheat the oven to 240⁰C (460⁰F). Remove the dough from bowl and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Flatten out the dough with the palms of your hands to form a large rectangle, about 1 ½ cm thick. Add extra flour if the dough is too sticky but don’t overdo it as this might toughen the bread. Coat the top with olive oil, decorate with the za’atar spice and fresh za’atar leaves.  Sprinkle with a bit of sea salt. When the dough has doubled (it should take much less time) dimple the surface of the bread with your fingertips. Place in the oven for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to cooling rack. Serve with extra za’atar and tomato salad. That’s what we had for dinner.

For more information on Za’atar: Za’atar by any other name… would smell as sweet (one of my first posts three years ago)


Update: I’ve joined Instagram , another addictive social media tool, but lots more fun. I’ll be posting pictures of my garden, wild edibles, food, street scenes and anything else that catches my eye. I’m foodbridge there too.





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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

foodwanderings May 27, 2012 at 11:44 am

Love this post Sarah. You always share interesting tidbit. Of course I would be partial to your zaatar focaccia be it an Arab Maneesh or ‘Arabized’ focaccia. :) I am also happy to hear about your efforts to ‘greening’ your home and yard. We live on a well and cannot water the vast yard. I’d like to think we are holding off renovations due to the fact that I want a green reasonably proced contractor to fall into my lap! :)


Sarah May 27, 2012 at 8:42 pm

Thanks Shulie, Too bad we don’t live closer, I could send my boys over to help out.


Baroness Tapuzina May 27, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Sarah, that sounds like a great project and something that David and I want to do when we move to our own home.


Sarah May 27, 2012 at 8:40 pm

Baroness, Good luck with moving into your new house. You are going to love working in your own garden, so much fun growing your own herbs and vegetables.


Lora @cakeduchess May 27, 2012 at 12:51 pm

Your fresh herbs are stunning and I bet the flavor is incredible. I am thrilled you baked along with us this month. Your Arab version of focaccia is delicious and beautiful. Thank you for joining us, Sarah. :)


Barbara | Creative Culinary May 27, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Working on my focaccia right this very minute…I love zaatar mix; I’m thinking my dipping oil is similar…doesn’t it have sumac in it? Sounds so good. I could eat focaccia every day and forgo meat I love it that much.


Sarah May 27, 2012 at 8:37 pm

Barbara, Can’t wait to see what you come up with. Yes, za’atar mix traditionally has sunac in it, at least the version popular in Israel (there are other variations in other countries). It also contains sesame seeds and thyme.


Rosa May 27, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Beautiful! I’m a big fan of za’atar and that kind of speciality.




Sarah May 27, 2012 at 8:36 pm

Thanks Rosa


Rachel K May 27, 2012 at 2:52 pm

Fascinating stuff. I live in London so we don’t have quite the same water issues (!) but even so, have also started planting things that need less water and can thrive in our hotter summers and colder and wetter winters. I have arguments with my neighbour, a retired marine engineer, who doesn’t believe in climate change. “It’s just weather” he scoffs. I won’t take the chance!

BTW I never knew that fresh zaataar looked like thyme . . . or is it the same thing?


Sarah May 27, 2012 at 8:31 pm

Rachel, Thanks! Although za’atar (Majorana syriaca) is closer in flavor to thyme is looks very much like oregano. The only plant which seems to thrive on neglect is our bougainvillea. It threatens to take over the yard if I don’t prune it every month.


Eha May 27, 2012 at 5:55 pm

Since I am addicted to the taste of za’atar, of course this will be tried! Am also a herb growing addict: nothing more wonderful than to be able to open the back door and pick a huge handful of whatever takes one’s fancy :) ! Sadly, quite a few like basil don’t survive our winter. But I have to laugh about your dog [inappropriate laughter?]: way back when we actually had to give a beautiful red setter away because darling husband refused to pay past the third set of drip watering replacements!!! Well, it was a delightful game for the pup, wasn’t it :D !


Sarah May 27, 2012 at 8:35 pm

Eha, My dog is named Totach which roughly translates to Rambo (my five year old name him 8 years ago). I should have called him Nezek (damage in Hebrew) instead. He destroys everything. My son had friends walk home barefoot because Totach ate their shoes (besides countless other things).


Eha May 27, 2012 at 8:43 pm

And, quite obviously. you all love Totach to bits and quietly grin at what your Rambo thinks of next . . . with love from the other side of the world!!


usha May 27, 2012 at 9:18 pm

Good luck with your new garden and eventually the pleasure of seeing seedlings and cuttings grow into herbs, plants and flowers.
I love focaccia in any form, shape or size. Do you suppose I could make one using whole wheat flour ? We don’t get gluten bread flour here.
Waiting to see photos of your work-in-progress garden!


Sarah May 27, 2012 at 9:57 pm

Thanks Usha, Here’s a whole wheat focaccia recipe: I didn’t try her recipe yet but it looks great.


Yael May 28, 2012 at 6:41 am

That focaccia looks so tasty. Too bad we neglected our own backyard and our za’atar and basil withered away. We’ll plant new ones soon I guess now we finally have new lawn. I want to try a gluten-free version, we’ll see how it will turn out,


Miss @ Miss in the Kitchen May 28, 2012 at 7:03 am

Lovely focaccia bread, it’s really one of my favorites and I love the spin you put on it.
I have a lot of the same gardening issues in WY, but I keep trying. Best of luck with yours.


Sarah June 2, 2012 at 12:14 pm

SeattleDee, Zaatar is both the mix (the traditional mix includes Majorana syriaca) as well as the plant and popular in Levanatine cooking.


SeattleDee May 31, 2012 at 4:08 pm

What a surprise to discover there IS a zaatar plant – I only know the thyme/sumac/sesame seed blend marketed in the US as zaatar. Your focaccia sounds wonderfully tempting, but I’m really longing for your garden plot. I live on a boat during the growing season and must content myself with a single pot of herbs.


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