The Traditional Lebanese Bread of The Saj:
The Marqooq Recipe
as promised in my article The Khebez: An Ancient Love Story That Prevails
The Marqouq, المرقوق is unique in its kind in that it is not a baked bread, and is very thin like a paper. It is cooked over charcoals or wood fire on a large dome-like skillet called Saj. It is also called Saj Bread for that reason.
The dough is flattened thinly then flipped back and forth from an arm to the other to allow it to extend and thin further; an ancien technique used particularly for this type of bread.
It is then placed on a very large special pillow to make it possible to spread it on the Saj. The pillow is overturned on the preheated Saj and removed at once, leaving the over-sized and over-thinned dough to cook in a matter of seconds.
The dough actually turns into the Marqouq bread in seconds.
The ritual of this particular bread-making is a fascinating sight and an appetizing one to the senses. The best way to enjoy it is hot, right from the Saj.
The Saj is also used sometimes to make the Manoush Zaatar, and that is the most delicious Manoush you could ever eat.
The Saj setting is not a rare sight outside our old traditional houses in the villages. Women would gather around it for the weekly bread-making. The tradition still exists in areas like the Bekaa, the South, and some villages of the North. The Marqooq bread-making is initially a cooking done outside, and done by the family adults, mostly the women.
With the continuous modernization of the market and easy access to its supplies, the tradition is not as commonly seen as it used to be. However, some bakeries in Lebanon included the Saj equipment in their commercial kitchen to provide that loved bread to their market.
It remains that the Lebanese Khebez, which the world calls Pita Bread or Flatbread (yet is neither) is the most consumed one in Lebanon, and the King on our tables.
The old recipe of this bread is present, with five other variations, in the famous 10th century cook book of Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq: Kitab al-Tabikh. The main recipe is still the same today.
The good news is that you can make this bread at home, with some twists to the original method. You don’t have to make them oversize neither. You can create your own Saj by using a large Wok, set upside down, over your BBQ grill. You may also work this recipe on a skillet over the stove.
And here is the recipe:
The Marqooq Bread
- 3 cups Flour plus some to work the dough
- 1/2 tsp Salt
- 1 1/4 cups Water (warm) not hot
- 2 tsps Instant Yeast
- 1 tbsp Sugar
- Oil Spray
MAKING THE DOUGH
Mix Yeast, Sugar and Warm Water in a cup, and set aside for 10 minutes to allow it to activate.
In a separate bowl, mix the salt with 2 1/2 cups of flour. Open a well in the center, and pour in the Yeast Mixture. Mix them and work the forming dough. Add gradually the remaining flour when needed for a smooth and homogeneous dough.
Sprinkle flour on the kitchen counter, and bring on the dough. Knead energetically for some 10 minutes until the dough is well formed: smooth and not sticky.
Roll it in a ball. With a sharp knife make two cuts on its top in the form of a cross to release the dough tension.
Spray oil on the bowl, and place the dough in. Spray some more oil on the dough to coat it. Cover with a moist kitchen-towel, and set it aside in a warm place to grow and double (2 hours).
MAKING THE BREAD
Sprinkle flour on the kitchen counter, and bring on the doubled dough. Knead it again for 3-4 minutes.
Divide the dough into equal portions, and roll each into balls then flatten them into circles.
With a rolling pin, work the circles to the thinnest possible.
IF YOU ARE USING A FLIPPED WOK ON A BBQ GRILL:
Make sure your wok is preheated well. Dust over some flour or spray some oil. Flip a flatten circle on the hot wok, and cook for a minute. Flip it over for the other side to cook for few seconds into a hint of gold.
Repeat until all your circles of dough are done.
IF YOU ARE USING A SKILLET OVER THE STOVE:
It's almost the same. Just make sure the skillet is hot and oiled with some oil spray.
Place the breads over each others as you remove them from the Wok or the Skillet.
Serve immediately, or cover them to maintain their softness and warmth.
LOVING MAKING BREAD? HERE ARE SOME MORE BREAD RECIPES: