Lachuch with Labneh and Za’atar
“Oooh,” I breathed as a chef ladled a fluffy white substance into a pan. I watched as the surface bubbled up into an improbable pitted pancake that looked like the surface of the moon.When the man deftly flipped it out of the pan, it flopped onto the counter, seeming almost alive. I reached out a tentative finger; it was soft and pillowy, with a texture unlike any bread I’ve encountered before.You can find the Yemenite bread, lachuch, in every market in Israel. There’s something so hypnotic about watching the bubbles form and break that it’s little wonder there’s usually someone standing mesmerized before the flames.Yemenites eat the bread with soup (they are masters of the form), but young Israeli chefs have been finding all manner of uses for this deliciously yeasty bread. My favorite lachuch recipe iteration is a breakfast dish: covered with cool labneh while it’s still warm, then drizzled with olive oil and slathered with the herbal mixture za’atar.You can buy za’atar in any Middle Eastern spice shop. But it’s a blend, and if you like the flavor you might want to play around with various herbs to come up with one of your very own. The constant ingredients are sumac, salt, and sesame seeds. Dried thyme is usually used (za’atar is actually the Arabic word for thyme), as well as oregano or mint. Cumin is often part of the mix. Personally, I find I like the flavor that fresh oregano adds the mixture. But if you’re in a different mood, you can spread the lachuch with honey, with jam, or fold some cheese, tomatoes, and onions in for a lovely little sandwich.This spongy bread is remarkably versatile—and incredibly easy to make. Aside from allowing the yeast a few hours to work its magic, you’re basically making pancakes, except you don’t have to bother with flipping. Just like with pancakes, pay close attention to the heat of your pan. You’ll likely need to reduce the heat to give the bubbly top time to set before the bottom burns, and be sure to let the pan cool in between batches. But most importantly—don’t sweat it. Making lachuch is like riding a bike; once you get the hang of it, there will be no stopping you.