Grilled Flatbread With Olive Oil and Za'atar Recipe

A tender, charred flatbread made on the grill, topped with lots and lots of za'atar.

Overhead shot of a grilled flatbread covered with olive oil and za'atar, laying on a cutting board. The flatbread has been split in half and cut into large strips. The outhor's hand is dipping a piece of the flatbread into a small bowl of labne that's been topped with more za'atar and a drizzle of olive oil.

Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt

Why It Works

  • Yogurt or milk ensures that the flatbread stays tender on the grill, while also giving it plenty of flavor and milk proteins for extra browning.
  • Cooking on a grill directly over the coals provides the high heat necessary to char the bread while allowing it to stay soft and moist inside.

You need more grilled bread in your life, and this grilled flatbread with za'atar is a great place to start.

This is not an authentic Middle Eastern flatbread recipe by any means. Most flatbreads from that region are lean doughs baked on a hearth. My version is hydrated, enriched with yogurt, and grilled directly over a flame (though you can also make the bread on a baking stone or steel in a hot oven). It's based mostly on my grilled naan recipe, which is itself not really like a traditional naan recipe at all. But no matter.

This dough is extremely forgiving stuff. In place of the water you'd use in a typical lean dough, I use yogurt or whole milk, which helps in two ways. First, the added fat limits gluten development, which means the bread stays tender even if you slightly overcook it or if your grill is not quite hot enough (I add some olive oil to this version for flavor and for even more tenderness insurance). Meanwhile, the extra milk proteins in the yogurt or milk ensure that the bread browns and chars in record time. The tanginess of yogurt also adds enough flavor that even with a brief two-hour pre-ferment, followed by a two-hour rise after dividing the dough into balls, it's still incredibly flavorful in the end. It's one of my favorite dough recipes, and the one I turn to when I know I want to make bread and eat it in the same afternoon.

The dough is really adaptable, too. I've successfully cooked flatbreads using this exact dough on a charcoal grill, a gas grill, in a gas-fired pizza oven, on a baking steel in a regular oven, in a cast iron skillet on the stovetop, and in an honest-to-goodness tandoor oven! You might notice that the bread is extra crisp and a little stiff right off the grill. That's okay. Think of it as a corn tortilla: You need to stack the breads in a clean towel and let them steam together for a moment or two so they can fully soften to their final, perfect texture.

The real key here is not to skimp on the za'atar. This is not a light dusting or even a big pinch. This is bread pretty much caked in the stuff, and that's how it should be. The bread is really a vehicle to deliver the za'atar to your mouth, and if you happen to have some good-quality labne lying around, or even some nice thick yogurt, make sure to sprinkle more za'atar on top of that before serving it on the side with a drizzle of olive oil.

July 2015

Recipe Facts

Active: 45 mins
Total: 6 hrs
Serves: 6 servings

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Ingredients

For the Flatbread (see note):

  • 10 ounces (about 2 cups) bread flour

  • 1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast

  • 2 teaspoons sugar

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • 6 1/2 ounces (about 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon) yogurt or whole milk

To Serve (see note if using store-bought za'atar):

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons dried oregano

  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme leaves

  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh savory

  • 1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons ground sumac (see note)

  • 2 tablespoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt

  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing and drizzling

  • 3/4 cup labne (see note)

Directions

  1. For the Flatbread: Combine flour, salt, yeast, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk until combined. Add olive oil and the yogurt or milk and knead with dough hook at low speed until dough comes together into a smooth ball. Dough should stick slightly to bottom of bowl as it kneads (add slightly more yogurt or milk as necessary). Continue to knead for 5 minutes. Alternatively, form dough in a food processor by adding all ingredients and processing until the dough rides around the blade. Transfer the dough to a clean bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and allow to rise at room temperature until roughly doubled in volume, about 2 hours.

  2. Turn dough out onto floured work surface. Using a bench scraper or a knife, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, then place on a well-floured surface (leaving a few inches of space between each one) and cover with a floured cloth. Alternatively, place each ball of dough in an individual covered pint-size deli container. Allow dough to rise at room temperature until doubled in volume, about 2 hours.

    Flatbread dough on a floured work surface being portioned with a bench scraper.

    Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt

  3. Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill, and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Alternatively, set half the burners on a gas grill to the highest heat setting, cover, and preheat for 10 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate.

  4. Working with one ball of dough at a time, stretch dough with floured hands or a rolling pin into an oblong or circle roughly 10 inches long and 6 inches wide. Once you have 2 or 3 pieces stretched, lay them out directly above the hot side of the grill. Cook without moving, popping any large air bubbles with a knife or the edge of a spatula or pizza peel, until bottom side is charred in spots and light golden brown. Flip with a large spatula, pizza peel, or tongs and cook until other side is charred and browned. Remove bread from the grill, transfer to a large plate, and cover with a clean dish towel to keep warm while you cook the remaining bread.

    Flatbread cooking on the grill directly above hot coals. The side facing up has not been grilled yet and the dough is bubbling up nicely.

    Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt

  5. To Serve: Form the za'atar mixture by combining oregano, thyme, savory, sesame seeds, sumac, and salt in a small bowl and stirring with fingers until homogenous. Brush finished flatbreads with olive oil and sprinkle generously with the za'atar mixture. Place labne in a serving dish, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with za'atar. Serve bread with labne immediately.

Special Equipment

Grill, chimney starter, stand mixer or food processor

Notes

For a much quicker, easier version, use store-bought flatbreads reheated on the grill until crisp and blistered on both sides, about 1 minute per side. Brush with olive oil and za'atar as directed.

Store-bought pre-mixed za'atar can be used in place of the homemade version. Use 1/2 cup total. If using commercial za'atar, salt content will vary; adjust according to taste.

If you cannot find sumac, add 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest to the mixture in its place.

Labne is a Middle Eastern strained yogurt that can be found in most high-end grocery stores, such as Whole Foods, or in specialty markets. If unavailable, use strained Greek yogurt instead.

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Nutrition Facts (per serving)
381 Calories
19g Fat
43g Carbs
10g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 6
Amount per serving
Calories 381
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 19g 25%
Saturated Fat 6g 29%
Cholesterol 20mg 7%
Sodium 1552mg 67%
Total Carbohydrate 43g 16%
Dietary Fiber 4g 14%
Total Sugars 4g
Protein 10g
Vitamin C 2mg 11%
Calcium 182mg 14%
Iron 3mg 15%
Potassium 229mg 5%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)