Cheese manakeesh (and zaatar manakeesh) are flatbreads popular all over Lebanon. Cheese manakeesh is a delicious flatbread made with a mixture of shredded cheese on homemade dough. After all, what's better than gooey, melted cheese wrapped up in warm flatbread dough? Let me answer that real quick, nothing at all.
In Lebanon, local bakeries in every corner sell this simple yet delicious delicacy. But that isn't to say you can't enjoy making it right in your own kitchen. I tried and given that my cheese manakeesh vanished off of the serving plate in about 5 minutes, I am guessing this recipe turned out really good.
- Akkawi cheese: This is a kind of salty cheese often sold at Lebanese stores anywhere in the world. Make sure to shred this cheese if you are going to use it in this recipe. A good substitute for akawi is mozzarella (or any other cheese that melts well).
- Mozzarella cheese: I mix a little of this with the akawi cheese and it makes for a wondrous mix of flavors.
- Teta's Homemade Dough Recipe: My favorite recipe for Lebanese dishes. Its ingredients are as follows: active dry yeast, vegetable oil, milk, salt, sugar, flour, egg, and water. If you are short on time, you can use ready-made pizza dough, whole wheat biscuit dough, and dinner roll dough.
- Dried herbs: Mint, oregano, basil, or thyme. These are optional but add a ton of flavor. I usually sprinkle them on top of the pastries once they're out of the oven.
- Vegetables: Cucumbers, mint leaves, tomatoes, peppers. In Lebanon when you add veggies to any manousheh it turns it into a "manousheh extra," so even though these are also optional they are highly recommended.
The Perfect Cheese For Manakeesh
I find that the perfect cheese blend for a cheese manakeesh to turn out with a great, balanced flavor is this: Mix a mild-tasting cheese like mozzarella with a tangy, salty kind of cheese. A perfect mix would be half a cup of shredded akkawi and half a cup of shredded mozzarella. If you can't find akkawi, look for a type of cheese that's a bit salty and melts well as a substitute. The key is to create a mix of mild and salty cheese for the perfect cheese manakeesh.
How To Make Cheese Manakeesh
Prepare the dough (or use store-bought dough). To make homemade dough, place the dry ingredients (flour, active dry yeast, salt, and sugar) in a bowl. Create a well in the middle. Crack the egg and pour all the liquid ingredients (lukewarm water, milk, and vegetable oil) into the well. Scrape the sides into the liquid ingredients and combine everything together. Then start kneading the dough. Remove the dough from the bowl and place it on a floured countertop. Continue kneading by hand for up to 10 minutes.
Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and a kitchen towel. Let rest for an hour while preparing the cheese and chopped vegetables.
Shred the cheeses into a bowl. Heat the oven to 350 ℉ (180 ℃). After the dough rested, knead for 5 more minutes. Then, split the manakeesh dough into even balls (about 10). Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough into similar-sized circles.
Place the manakeesh dough (without the cheese) on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake in an oven at 350 ℉ (180 ℃) for around 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and top each dough circle with a heaped tablespoon of the cheese mix. Pop back into the oven for around 5-7 minutes, or until the cheese is completely melted.
Tips and Tricks
- Do not use frozen cheese. Use fresh refrigerated cheese when making this recipe. Frozen mozzarella or akawi do not work well here and will leave you with pretty soggy manakeesh (this is even if the cheeses are well-thawed).
- Cook the flatbread without the cheese first. Cheese heats up and melts really quickly so if we top the raw dough with it and place it in the oven right away, we'll most probably end up with undercooked dough. The trick here is to pop the dough into the oven for around 10 minutes without any toppings first. Then take it out of the oven, sprinkle with the cheese, and let it bake for a few more minutes. That way the cheese melts perfectly and the dough is cooked perfectly. At bakeries, this step isn't necessary because they use special ovens to ensure the dough cooks real fast. When making this at home dough, we need to follow this step.
- Bake the dough and cheese as you would a pizza. If you'd like a crescent shaped manouche, fold it in half after it's baked. Also, you can skip folding all together and simply cut the manousheh into pizza-like slices. I make my manousheh pretty small so I often serve it as is.
Variations and Substitutions
- Add deli meats. In Lebanon, people love making cheese manousheh with deli meats like ham, turkey, salami, or mortadella. This variation is called a Lebanese pizza, and it's out of this world.
- Add zaatar. Another variation is the zaatar and cheese manousheh. Here we basically drizzle zaatar (a mixture of zaatar spice and olive oil) on top of the cheese before popping the manousheh into the oven.
- Add pitted green olives and herbs. This popular variation in the North of Lebanon is cheese manousheh with pitted green olives, herbs, and a drizzle of olive oil over the pastry right after you take it out of the oven.
The best way to serve a cheese manakeesh is to plate it alongside some fresh, crunchy vegetables and a few fresh mint leaves. Nothing will ever top this combination. I've seen people serve mini versions of cheese manakeesh alongside a zaatar and olive oil dip. This recipe works really well with fresh Lebanese salads like the mighty fattoush or even a simple green salad.