Afife Harris, from Lebanon, shows how to make saj
bread, a Lebanese mountain bread.
Afife Harris came to Dunedin more than 20 years ago with her
husband Bill, who teaches at the University of Otago. In
those days it was difficult to find the things she needed to
make Lebanese food, but now ingredients such as burgul, sumac
and olive oil are readily available. She teaches cooking
classes at Logan Park High School and has a stall at the
Otago Farmers Market.
This thin flatbread is made all over the Levant, especially
in villages where it is cooked on an outside fireplace on a
special domed pan. Afife's mother used to make it every three
weeks as it kept very well. It is often used to scoop up food
instead of a fork or spoon and can also be filled with meat,
vegetables, lentils, salad and other things and rolled up.
Afife uses a Chinese wok turned upside down over a gas burner
to cook the bread, but she sometimes makes the dough in the
Saj (mountain) bread
Afife Harris with saj bread cooking on her upturned Chinese
wok (right). Photo by Gregor Richardson.
2 cups flour
1-1½ cups water
1 tsp yeast
Mix the flour, yeast, salt and water together to a soft,
floppy dough and knead well until smooth. Allow to rise in a
warm place for maybe an hour until doubled in size.
Or make in a breadmaker on the dough setting.
When ready to cook the bread, put an upturned wok over a gas
flame to heat, or use a large frying pan.
Shape the soft dough into a log and cut off pieces about
6-8cm long. Roll each into a ball and push with the fingers
into a flat pancake. Roll out to a large, thin disc 20cm-30cm
Traditionally the disc is placed over a cushion and stretched
thinner, or thrown between the hands until thin. Place over
the hot wok and leave for 2-3 minutes. Lift the edges
slightly and if it is ready to turn over the bread will lift
off easily. Turn the bread over and cook on the other side
for a minute or two. The bread should still be pale with a
few light brown patches. It may puff up.
Pile the cooked bread on a teatowel. Wrap to keep warm.
• You can sprinkle cheese, minced meat, zata'ar (thyme,
sesame and sumac) or other toppings on the bread, like a
pizza, as it is cooking. Saj bread with haloumi cheese fresh
from a baker is a favourite breakfast for people on the way
to work in Lebanon.
Thanks to Centre City New World.