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.
The Dairy Addition
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 I divide 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.
Go Big With the Za'atar
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.
After additional testing, this recipe has been updated to decrease the amount of salt in the za'atar.
For the Flatbread (see notes):
10 ounces bread flour (about 2 cups; 280g)
1 teaspoon (3g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use half as much by volume or the same weight
1/2 teaspoon (2g) instant or rapid-rise yeast
2 teaspoons (8g) sugar
2 tablespoons (30ml) extra-virgin olive oil
6 1/2 ounces full-fat yogurt or whole milk (about 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon; 185g), plus more as needed
To Serve (see notes if using store-bought za'atar):
1 1/2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons (5g) minced fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons (5g) minced fresh savory
1/4 cup (35g) toasted sesame seeds
1 1/2 tablespoons ground sumac (see notes)
1 tablespoon (9g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use half as much by volume or the same weight
Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing and drizzling
3/4 cup (175g) labne (see notes)
For the Flatbread: In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together flour, salt, yeast, and sugar until well combined. Add olive oil and 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). If dough hasn't come together, add yogurt or milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, until dough forms a smooth ball. 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.
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.
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.
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, about 2 minutes. Flip with a large spatula, pizza peel, or tongs and cook until other side is charred and browned, about 2 minutes. 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.
To Serve: For the za'atar, whisk together oregano, thyme, savory, sesame seeds, sumac, and salt in a small bowl until combined. Brush finished flatbreads with olive oil and sprinkle generously with za'atar. Place labne in a serving dish, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with za'atar. Serve bread with labne alongside immediately.
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.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 19g||25%|
|Saturated Fat 6g||29%|
|Total Carbohydrate 43g||16%|
|Dietary Fiber 4g||14%|
|Total Sugars 4g|
|Vitamin C 2mg||11%|
|*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.|