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Saj: An Essential and Authentic Lebanese Flatbread

Saj bread baking on a saj metal griddle (All photos courtesy of Mazen Hosaiky)

Biting into warm, freshly baked saj bread, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by its authentic and delicious taste and overlook its rich history and numerous benefits.

Wheat, an essential ingredient of saj bread, is a dominant staple grain that provides up to one third of the calories consumed in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. In Lebanon, saj is a staple part of Lebanese meals and is often eaten as part of the mezze spread. The production of saj bread is also beneficial to the livelihoods of women in rural villages since there are many agricultural cooperatives that are led by rural women who bake and sell saj bread.

Air bubbles forming on the saj dough as it bakes

Where Does Saj Bread Come From?

The term “flat” bread encompasses a multitude of bread types that differ in ingredients, preparation methods and overall taste based on the countries that they are consumed in.

Saj bread (also known as markook, khubz ruqaq, shrak, khubz rqeeq, mashrooh) is a type of unleavened flat bread that is commonly eaten in the Levant and throughout the Middle East. It is baked on a domed or convex metal griddle, known as saj. Usually sizable, the saj is approximately 60 cm. Like other flatbreads, the dough of saj bread is flattened and kept very thin prior to baking. It is usually folded and put in bags before being sold.

The history of bread is intertwined with the history of the world. Its key ingredient, wheat is known to have grown on several continents in ancient times, although it thrived in an area known as the Fertile Crescent which spans modern-day Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq together with the southeastern region of Turkey and the western fringes of Iran. One of the earliest mentions of markook bread was in the renowned tenth century Arabic cookbook “Kitab Al Tabikh” (The Book of Dishes) by Ibn Sayyar Al Warraq.

Compared to more voluminous bread loaves, flat breads in general are considered an asset to a subsistence economy, in which every resource has to be rationalized. The bread can also be used as an alternative to eating utensils to scoop up and consume food. Possibly due to their simple and convenient transportation process, in which they are stacked on top of each other, flatbreads are popular in geographic areas where nomadic life is predominant. Although flatbreads originated in rural societies, their delicious taste and many benefits make them popular across the world.

Is Saj Bread Healthy?

Flatbread is a healthier alternative to traditional raised yeast bread. It is most beneficial when made with whole grains and has little sugar and salt and no hydrogenated oils. Compared to white bread, whole grains have a larger amount of nutrients and fibers. Fibers have significant health benefits and are essential for a healthy digestive system. They can also help prevent obesity, reduce the risk of constipation, diabetes, heart disease and high cholesterol. Adding seeds such as flax or chia seeds can further improve the nutritional value of the flatbread.

An essential ingredient of bread, wheat is mostly composed of carbohydrates and has a moderate amount of proteins. Carbohydrates are an essential part of our diets and provide our body with energy, almost 50 percent of daily caloric needs come from carbohydrates. Flatbread flour is fortified with vitamins like thiamin (vitamin B1), folic acid, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and minerals like iron, zinc and iodine.

Saj Bread Recipe


2 large spoons of active dry yeast
3 L warm water
5 kg wheat flour
50 g coarse or table salt

Note: If you are using coarse salt, make sure to melt it in warm water before mixing it with the other ingredients in the dough or you can add table salt to the dough after it has been formed.


  1. Add coarse salt in a bowl, add warm water and let them melt. Put wheat flour and the yeast in another bowl. Form a well in the center, pour salt and warm water in the mixture.
  2. Begin to mix with your hands, adding warm water as needed. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it for about 10 minutes, until it’s smooth and no longer sticky.
  3. Knead the dough for a few minutes then divide it into balls about 2 1/2 inches in diameter. Roll the balls into circles on a lightly floured surface with a rolling pin, or flatten them into circles with your hands.
  4. Place the dough on a circular cushion (referred to as “tara”, طارة in Arabic) make sure to tuck in the edges.
  5. Flip the flattened dough on the cushion. Once the dough is properly shaped, place it on the saj griddle and bake for less than a minute on one side and then flip to cook the other side. Sometimes you only cook on one side, it depends on your preference. Pile your bread sheets and cover to keep them soft and warm or serve them immediately. You may use these sheets of bread as a wrap for anything you like such as cheese, meats or veggies.

Some photos of the saj bread preparation process:

Pouring water into the dough
Dough formed into balls
Sprinkling flour on the dough
Flattening the dough with a rolling pin
Stretching the saj dough by hand
Placing the dough on a circular cushion and shaping it
Transferring the dough from the cushion to the metal griddle
Saj bread baking on the metal griddle


Al-Dmoor, Hanee M. “Flat Bread: Ingredients and Fortification.” ResearchGate, Mar. 2012,


Pasqualone, Antonella. “Traditional Flat Breads Spread from the Fertile Crescent: Production Process and History of Baking Systems.” Journal of Ethnic Foods, Elsevier, 17 Feb. 2018,


Tohmé Tawk, Salwa, et al. “Challenges and Sustainability of Wheat Production in a Levantine Breadbasket: The Case of the West Bekaa, Lebanon.” Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 2019, pp. 1–17., doi:10.5304/jafscd.2019.084.011.


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Mtashtash – Tabbouleh Kezzebeh

Mtashtash (متشتش) is a satiating salad with an abundance of bulgur, commonly prepared in the Akkar region of Northern Lebanon. It is also known as blileh or even “fake tabbouleh” (tabbouleh kezzebeh – تبولة كذّابة). The word mtashtash means soaked and refers to the bulgur that is mixed with the other ingredients. This traditional recipe is typically prepared during Lent and is served with cooked or fresh cabbage leaves, or it can be scooped with fresh lettuce leaves.

Mtashtash Recipe:
(Recipe courtesy of Rose Bitar from Fneidik, Akkar)

Serves: 5 people
Calories: 650 calories per serving
Preparation Time: 30 mins


2 cups of coarse bulgur
5 tbsp. of chickpeas (cooked)
1 tbsp. of tomato paste
1 tsp. of chili paste
2 garlic cloves (crushed)
1 cup of olive oil
2 medium sized tomatoes
2 bunches of parsley
1 bunch of mint
4 green onions
Juice of 1 squeezed lemon
Salt to taste

Preparation Steps:

  1. Wash the bulgur thoroughly.
  2. In a bowl, rub the bulgur with the garlic, olive oil, tomato paste and chili paste; mix the ingredients well and leave them aside.
  3. Finely chop the parsley, mint and green onions and add them to the bulgur mix.
  4. Dice the tomatoes and add them to the bulgur mix.
  5. Finally, add the chickpeas, lemon juice and salt and mix well.
  6. Serve cold with boiled or fresh cabbages or with fresh lettuce leaves.
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Ambarees an icon of the Lebanese Food Heritage

Labneh (strained yogurt) is a daily food item in the Lebanese diet, cherished by everyone and consumed mainly in sandwiches for breakfast. Labneh comes in various tastes and flavors depending on the method of processing and the source of milk; it can be sweet or sour.

Ambarees, also known as Serdalli ( also pronounced Sirdeleh) or Labnet al Jarra, is a traditional dairy product of the Bekaa Valley and the Chouf area where baladi (local) goats are the main grazing animals. Ambarees consists of fermented raw goat milk in earthenware jars; It develops into a Labneh with a creamy texture and an acidic flavor. The word “Sirdeleh” actually refers to the earthenware jar in which the dairy product is prepared.

Old Ambarees jars dating around 100 years, in Saghbine – West Bekaa

This dairy delicacy is made from raw goat milk, and to a lesser extent from cow or sheep milk, which is poured at room temperature in earthenware containers with a coarse salt, closed, and left for a week to ferment. At this stage, a curd and a liquid forms, the latter being drained from a small hole at the bottom of the jar. The process of adding raw milk, coarse salt, fermenting and draining is repeated until the jar is full. It is then sealed and left to ferment until it reaches the right acidity.

Ambarees labneh almost ready to be consumed

Ambarees is a result of an old and wise traditional knowledge of food and food-ways, a preservation technique that has proven successful over the centuries. The  high acidity and salt concentration of this food product, along with a proper handling by food producers, makes it totally safe to eat.


Ambarees is produced from late March until end of September, when goat milk is abundant, and the water content of the pastures becomes low. Ambarees is highly dense in milk solids, can be preserved for a whole year, and makes for a perfect meal in winter days, often spread on a piece of Saj or Markouk bread, and heated over a wooden stove.


Promoting traditional Palestinian food

The Food Heritage Foundation (FHF) had the pleasure to host ladies from the Woman Program Association (WPA) in Bourj Al Barajneh on April 30 2015 for a “Palestinian Cooking Day”. Seven ladies from the WPA worked together to develop a special traditional Palestinian menu and prepare the food at Akleh, FHF’s community kitchen. The event was promoted on social media and among FHF’s friends who came to taste the delicious Palestinian delicacies and support the Palestinian woman. Part of the food was offered to the Red Cross center in Spears to salute their effort and promote FHF’s activities. This event was supported by Majd Al Futtaim Properties.



Palestinian Cooking Day

Palestinian cooking day_flyer

The Food Heritage Foundation is organizing a “Palestinian Cooking Day” event in collaboration with the Women Program Association in Bourj Al Barajneh.

Join us in Zico House on Thursday April 30 at 6 pm to taste fine Palestinian delicacies and celebrate Palestinian culinary traditions by supporting women cooks from Bourj Al Barajneh.

A special salutation to the Lebanese Red Cross efforts will be made by sharing this feast with the Red Cross center in Spears.

This event is supported by Majid Al Futtaim Properties.

For tickets, contact the Food Heritage Foundation (71 – 731 437) or pick them up at the entrance on the day of the event.

Hope to see you there!


Akleh Community Kitchen: satisfying taste buds with traditional Lebanese food

Coffee break 1

The women cooks of the Food Heritage Foundation’s community kitchen “Akleh” prepared sumptuous traditional recipes for the Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship, during its conference on “Exploring an Agenda for Active Citizenship” on Sunday February 23, 2015 in AUB.

A variety of colorful traditional dishes were on the menu, such as lentil tabbouleh, potato kebbeh stuffed with labneh, frikeh with meat etc… and raw ingredients were procured from small producers and farmers spread in different Lebanese areas.

Akleh Community Kitchen creates job opportunities for housewives and ensures the building on their capacities in terms of food safety and healthy cooking techniques.

Akleh’s food was successful in satisfying the guests’ taste buds and appetite!




SlowMed Team @ Akleh: Cooking A Traditional Recipe From Aarsal

Discussing History of the recipe

On Sunday December 7, 2014, Akleh, our community kitchen in Beirut, became the stage  for a filming session to document the preparation of “Makhlouta“, a traditional recipe from Aarsal. The SlowMed team in Lebanon composed of a chef, a dietitian, three camera men and their coordinator interviewed and cooked with Ms. Halime el Houjeiri, the president of Aarsal Food Processing Coop.


Makhlouta is a dish commonly prepared in mountain villages during winter and is often associated to the lent period. In Aarsal, this substantial dish is usually prepared in winter and is served hot.

Adding lentils

Halime explained that in Aarsal, Makhlouta is made by boiling chickpeas, beans, lentils, bulgur wheat, potatoes and onions, no stir-frying involved. Salt is the only condiment added.

Finishing with Olive Oil

A generous portion of extra virgin olive oil is responsible for the rich aroma of Makhlouta which combines very well with the earthy flavour of lentils and the buttery flavour of beans and chickpeas. Halime amused the team with proverbs from her area that hail chickpeas as a substitute for meat while serving them their lunch, with the “Akleh” of the day being: Makhlouta!

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Fawareg or stuffed intestines

Fwaregh or stuffed sheep sausages (tribes and intestines) is one of the most exquisite traditional Lebanese meals. In the old days people would use every piece of the sheep, even intestines and tribes.


The main task consists of cleaning the intestines. Intestines are first thoroughly washed under running water while removing the extra fat stocking on the sides. After washing from inside and outside, they are rubbed with coarse salt and water, then soaked in water and white vinegar for about an hour (1 cup of vinegar for 4 cups of water). Once cleaned, they are ready for stuffing with meat, rice, onions, chickpeas and spices.

stuffed intestine

stuffed intestine

stuffed intestine

stuffed intestine

stuffed intestine