Turning Tables w/ Chef Reem Assil
Watch Episode 7: Chef Reem Assil baking a Man’oushe & Knafeh!
About Our Chef
Reem Assil is a Palestinian-Syrian chef based in Oakland, CA, and owner of Reem’s California, a nationally acclaimed restaurant in Oakland, and Reem’s California Mission in San Francisco, inspired by Arab street corner bakeries and the vibrant communities that surround them.
Reem has garnered an array of top accolades in the culinary world, including back-to-back James Beard Semifinalist nods for Best Chef: West. She is a graduate of the competitive food business incubator program, La Cocina, business leadership program Centro Community Partners, and Oakland-based business accelerator program ICA: Fund Good Jobs.
Before dedicating herself to a culinary career, Reem spent over a decade as a community and labor organizer, building leadership in workers and residents to fight for living wages, affordable housing, and a voice in their jobs and their neighborhoods. Reem sits at the intersection of her three passions: food, community, and social justice. She uses food to invoke the central virtue of her Arab culture — hospitality — to build a strong, resilient, and connected community.
- 2 ½ cups water at body temperature 95 to 100 degrees (566 grams)
- 3 teaspoons yeast (12 grams)
- 1 ½ teaspoons sugar (8 grams)
- 5 ½ cups bread flour (660 grams)
- 1 cup all-purpose flour (120 grams) plus half cup, for dusting
- 1.5 tablespoon kosher salt (18 grams)
- 1/4 cup olive oil (52 grams)
- 4 tablespoons semolina flour, for dusting
- ¾ cup za’atar
- 3/4 cup olive oil
- 2 cups melting cheese such as mozzarella or Oaxacan cheese, grated
- In a stand mixer or large bowl, using a paddle attachment or mixing spoon, stir 500 grams (or 2 ¼ cups) of water into the bread flour until thoroughly incorporated and set aside for 20 minutes.
- While the flour and water mixture rests, stir together the remaining 60 grams (or ¼ cup) of warm water, sugar, and yeast in a small bowl. Set aside until foamy, about 10 minutes. At this point, the yeast mix should give off a sweet fragrance and show a bubbly bloom.
- If kneading by hand: Use your hand to incorporate the yeast mixture, all-purpose flour, salt, and oil into the dough.
- Squeeze the dough between your thumb and fingers until it forms a rough and shaggy ball. Turn on to a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough is soft, holds its shape, and passes the gluten tests. This usually takes up to 10 minutes of kneading.
- If using a stand mixture: Add the yeast mixture, all-purpose flour, salt and oil to the bowl, and use a dough hook to mix the dough on low speed until everything comes together, scraping the bowl if needed. Turn the speed up to medium and mix until it pulls away from the sides of the bowl (about 8-10 minutes). You should hear the dough slap the side of the bowl and see that it passes the gluten tests.
- Form the dough into a ball and transfer into a large bowl coated with oil. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel and let rise in a warm, draft free place for 1 ½ hours or until doubled in size. Refrigerate up to 12 hours if not using right away.
- When you are ready to bake, arrange your oven racks on the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 500 degrees F. If using a baking stone, place it on the floor, or lower rack, and preheat your oven for at least 45 minutes.
- Whisk or stir the za’atar into the olive oil gradually and mix until it takes the texture of a viscous pesto.
- Cut the dough ball into 8 equal pieces. Shape each piece into rounds (page 000), cover, and let rest another 30 minutes. If you are not baking right away, you can also shape and set aside in the refrigerator until you are ready to bake.
- Place the rounds on a lightly floured work surface, sprinkle with bread flour, and pat each round out into a disk. Working your way around the rim of the disk, use your thumb and index finger to pinch the edges and stretch out the dough. If the dough is resistant, allow the round to rest another 5-10 minutes, covered. Once you have pinched around the entire circle, flip the disk over and dust with more flour. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough up then down once, shift a quarter turn and repeat the process until it forms a 10-inch disk. Let the disk rest another 5 minutes.
- Scatter semolina flour over an inverted baking sheet and place the dough disk on the tray ensuring. Top the flatbread with za’atar or cheese.
- Place the baking sheet on the upper rack for 2 minutes, until bubbles start to form and the bread has enough form to pick up with your hands or tongs. Transfer the par-baked flatbread onto the bottom rack or baking stone and bake until the edges brown and a bottom crust forms, about 3 minutes more.
- Top with fresh vegetables or hot sauce, and enjoy sliced like a pizza or rolled up.
Ingredients (serves 10-12)
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon orange blossom water
- 1 tablespoon rose blossom water
- 1 packet shredded filo dough (about 1 pound)
- ½ cup (95 grams) clarified butter
- ¼ cup syrup
- 1 pound Akkawi cheese or whole-milk low-moisture mozzarella cheese
- 1 pound ricotta cheese, drained
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 1 ½ cup syrup
- ½ cup finely ground raw pistachio
- Make ahead: Soak cheese for 4 hours or more to leach out its salt.
- Bring the sugar, water, and lemon juice to a boil in a medium-sized pot and stir until sugar has dissolved. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 7 minutes. Add orange blossom and rose water and cook for 3 minutes more. Set aside to cool.
- Preheat the oven to 450°F.
- Get a 12” cast iron pan or if you don’t have a cast-iron pan, line 2 9X13” baking sheets or 2 10” baking pans with a greased parchment paper. To make the crust, grind shredded phyllo in a food processor for 3 to 5 minutes, until a fine crumble forms. Add in melted clarified butter and syrup, until the crust comes together like a dough. Press the dough into the pan, or divide the crust evenly between the two cake pans. Use your fingers to press into an even ¼ inch layer, allowing some to come up the sides of the pan. Use the back of a soup spoon to press and smooth the crust into an even well-packed layer. It should resemble a graham cracker pie crust.
- Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown (take care not to let the crust burn, it will bake a second time with the cheese filling.) Remove the crusts from the oven and zest a lemon evenly over the crust. Lower the oven to 350 degrees.
- While the crust is baking, drain your cheese and taste. If the salt content is too high, soak in clean water. In the food processor, grind the cheese to a fine crumble. If your cheese is already grated, fold together with the ricotta and mix well.
- Layout the cheese filling over the crust or divide it over two crusts if using cake pans. Return to the oven and bake another 15-20 minutes until the cheese mixture starts to form faint golden spots. You don’t want to overbake your cheese.
- Pull the pan from the oven and run a knife around the edges. Cover with a serving plate and carefully flip, crust-side up.
- Pour the remaining syrup over the knafeh. Garnish with ground pistachio and serve piping hot.