Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A snack from Damascus.

          I have had an amazing childhood. My dad was in the air force of Pakistan and because of that we moved to different cities and different countries a lot. My worldly experiences were amazing and always revolved around good food and beautiful people. This story is very dear to my heart. We moved to Damascus, Syria in 97’ from Pakistan. As a child growing up, I always heard stories from cousins who lived abroad, about how different Pakistan was from where they lived. The visuals in my head were grandeur and full of Magic. This probably also has to do with all the children movies we used to see i.e. Matilda, Aladdin, Baby Genius etc.
       My first thought when we landed at the Airport in Syria, my first thought was “that’s it”. Where are all the malls that people talk about in movies? Where are all the toy stores? I remember reading signs in Arabic, few in English. It was sunny and everything looked very desert like. It had the same street stores like Pakistan, same farmer’s markets. The cars were similar, the road signs were similar. There were hotels, roundabouts, and then we reached our Inn. That was green, there were tall building and children were playing outside. We got cleaned up and got ready for lunch. Have you ever been so hungry that you start to play eating with the utensilsJ? I was that hungry. Now remember I am from a place where spices of all kinds are a must in main dishes, salads are cut and mixed together. The curries are colorful and are cooked in a lot of oil for flavour with cilantro, green Chile and ginger.
          The food came as it always comes in Middle Eastern countries, Hummus, Muta’abal, Whole salad veggies, pickled purple green vegetables (Turnips, cucumbers, olives).  At that time, my face resembled someone who wanted lasagna but was served boiled vegetables instead. In my little head, all I saw were vegetables and different kinds of Pasty things.  My mum took the lead and cut the cucumbers, carrots and tomatoes and tried hummus with a carrot. She smiled and said nothing. My dad tried and talked it up. Then he started eating hummus with khubaz (bread). I tried hummus and didn’t like it. I felt it was bland and reminded me of mushy moist bread. I did like muta’abil though; the grilled eggplant with fresh parsley, tahini and garlic was a perfect salad dish for me. My initial disappointment was overcome with happiness when the server brought a beautiful grilled chicken on a bed of rice and some kind of nuts. My mum broke a piece, gave me some rice and nuts, I took a bite of the chicken, again bland and I could taste chicken ( which was weird for me as I liked taste of spices more than just plain chicken)………I had to eat so I took another bite, this time with rice and pine nuts. I think that was the first time I realised how important texture and natural taste of food is. It was grilled sticky chicken with skin with lightly browned rice and crunchy earthy nutty fried pine nuts. After this experience, I tried everything I could in Damascus and eventually started liking humus. However I still pick muta’abil or babganoush over hummus.
                We had been living in Damascus for six months when my parents decided to move from Mezza to Mezza Jabel. Mezza was an area for foreigners with western inspired restaurants and grocery stores. And mezza jabel was in the heart of Damascus, very close to a bazaar, authentic and local. I am glad we moved because that is when we met beautiful people of Syria, learned to speak Arabic, had my grandfather over and enjoyed delicious food.  During our move, my dad asked me to go with him to the market just to look around. My mum and my brother were at home I think. Anyways, we took a walk down the bazaar, there were fresh food markets, barber shops, clothing shops, electronics and right by the end was a shop that were making manakesh. They are mini pizzas where dough is hand tossed; topped with local ingredients like spinach, lamb eggplant or just plain za’atar (roasted oregano and sesame spice).  They were small and in shape of a palm, with corners twisted around. I remember looking at dad skeptically, before I took a bite of the spinach and pomegranate seed manakesh. It was hot, the bread was flaky and the topping was tangy and earthy at the same time. It was delicious. 
      We had so many different kinds of these delicious snacks when we lived in Syria and then again in Alain, where my parents live now. I think my favourite has to be Za’atar with olive oil topping. The flaky bread is a perfect canvas for roasted sesame and oregano spice with olive oil. When I went gluten free, I used to miss all the wheat products that I once loved eating.  I finally was able to make the dough for manakesh. In memory of my Damascus manakesh, I give you the gluten free version. This came out to be flaky, soft and stretchy. Perfect for pizza doughs as well.


2 tbsp Tapioca Flour
2 tbsp rice flour
2 tbsp yellow corn flour
1 tsp yeast
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp xanthum gum
1/4 cup of egg white (beaten)

  • Soak the yeast in 1/5 cup of water
  • Mix all the dry ingredients
  • Then add yeast, oil, and egg white(beaten) and beat until it gets to a cake batter consistency.
  • Then let it rest for at least an hour.
  • It will double in size, mix the batter with a spoon and let it rest again for half hour.
  • Grease a pan and spread a spoonful of batter on the pan. Spread it as wide as you want, it needs to be half an inch in thickness. 
  • Add the topping of za'atar and olive oil (1 tsp and 1 tbsp of olive oil)
  • Spread it over the dough.
  • Bake it at 350 F for 15 mins.

  • You can get Za'atar spice from any Middle Eastern market  or make it at home with equal parts dried orgenao and sesame seed grinded together with salt to tasted.
  • You can add an egg wash to brown your manakesh when it bakes.
  • I keep it like batter consistency to achieve flakiness and moist manakesh bread.
  • This recipe makes 4 snack size servings
  • Each serving has 130 calories

All the flours and xanthum gum

beaten egg whites

Dry and then wet ingredients

Beat it until a cake batter consistency

Let it rest, and double in size for an hour

15 mins in the oven and its ready.


  1. Wow, what a story and that recipe sounds amazing! Does the gluten free pastry shell get as flaky as you described it in Syria? Either way, looks amazing and tasty, I may have to give this a try.



    1. Thank You Abisaac,
      I really appreciate your comment. I believe that this pastry came out lighter and more flaky than regular manakesh pastry.
      Let me know how it turns out, any suggestions would be appreciated.