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Chef Michel Chammaa is very proud of the Lebanese breads he serves at Mandaloun.
By "Today" Food Editor
updated 6/21/2005 3:06:48 PM ET 2005-06-21T19:06:48

In this special weekly feature, “Today” food editor Phil Lempert brings you recipes “stolen” (with permission) from notable restaurants across America. See how much money you can save — and fun you can have — by cooking these dishes at home!

THIS WEEK: Manakish Zaatar, from Mandaloun in Glendale, Calif.

The food of the eastern Mediterranean has become increasingly popular in recent years, both for its delicious, fresh flavors and its healthy use of olive oil low amounts of animal fats.

Many feel that this cuisine reaches its highest point in Lebanon, a small country just above Israel that was ruled for a time by the French and has a long history of emigration, resulting in Lebanese restaurants in many parts of the world.

Part of that diaspora can be found at Mandaloun, a restaurant that opened in late 2003 in Glendale, Calif. Complete with belly dancers and live music, it offers an extensive wine list and a menu of gourmet specialties. If you have not ventured into cooking Mediterranean dishes at home, get started with this great recipe from chef Michel Chammaa for Manakish Zaatar, a traditional Lebanese bread.

About the chef:
Michel Chammaa was born in Beirut and developed an early interest in food as he observed his parents, both accomplished home chefs, prepare traditional Lebanese dishes for family and friends. He eventually decided to attend culinary school in Beirut, and, in 1988, graduated at the top of his class.

After graduation, Chammaa and his family moved to the United States, settling in Los Angeles, where his first job took him to the acclaimed Al-Amir restaurant. In 1991, Chammaa became executive chef and general manager at The Sultan, another highly regarded Middle Eastern restaurant in Los Angeles. He then returned to Al-Amir in 1995 to serve as executive chef.

In 1998 restaurateur Bechara Nammour, owner of an upscale chain of Middle Eastern restaurants in the Washington, D.C., area, hired Chammaa to head the kitchen at his new Neyla Mediterranean Grill at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, where he went on to win numerous honors.

In 2003, as Glendale restaurateur Ara Kalfayan put plans together for Mandaloun, he remembered Chammaa’s accomplishments at Al-Amir and offered him the position of executive chef in time for its opening.

(PLEASE NOTE: Ingredient prices are estimates and based on national averages. Amounts listed are for one portion. Increase proportionately according to number of portions desired.)

Manakish Zaatar
($2.95 at Mandaloun; cook-at-home cost is $1.41.)

1/2 package active dry yeast ($0.16)
1-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour ($0.22)
1/2 cup warm tap water ($0.01)
1/2 teaspoon salt ($0.01)
1 cup dried thyme ($0.50)
1 cup sumac ($0.26)
1 tablespoon sesame seeds ($0.10)
3 tablespoons olive oil ($0.15)

Whisk together the yeast, 1 tablespoon of the flour and 1/4 cup warm water in a small bowl and let stand until mixture develops a creamy foam; about 10 minutes. If mixture does not foam, discard and start over with new yeast.

Next, stir together the salt and 3/4 cups flour in a large bowl. Then add yeast mixture and remaining 1/4 cup of warm water. Stir until smooth, then mix in another 1/2 cup flour. If dough sticks to your fingers, stir in just enough flour to make the dough start to pull away from the side of the bowl. This dough may be wetter than familiar Italian pizza dough.

Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface with floured hands. Lightly re-flour the work surface and your hands when dough becomes too sticky. Work the dough until it is smooth, soft and elastic; about 10 minutes. Form dough into a ball, then generously dust with flour and put in a medium bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rise in a warm, draft-free place until it doubles in size; about 1 to 1-1/4 hours.

While dough is rising, combine thyme leaves, sumac and sesame seeds in a medium mixing bowl. Sumac is a dark red berry that grows on bushes throughout the Middle East and some parts of Italy. Sumac is sold ground or in dried seed form and can be found at most Middle Eastern markets, or can be ordered from an online specialty company. Next add the olive oil to the mixture to form a paste. This paste is the zaatar mixture.

When the dough has fully risen, place it onto a floured surface, and press down to form into a disk shape. Spread with the zaatar mixture and place on a pizza stone or oiled pizza pan. Cook in a 350-degree oven for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the dough is crispy and brown. Serve warm.

Glendale Marketplace
141 S. Maryland Street
Glendale, Calif., 91205

Want to nominate your favorite restaurant dish for a "Steal This Recipe" feature? Just e-mail Phil at Phil.Lempert@nbc.com (or use the mail box below) with the name of the restaurant, city and state, and the dish you would like to have re-created. Want to know more about Phil and food? Visit his Web site at www.supermarketguru.com.


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