Sourdough Saj

By Charlotte Pike | November 24, 2015
These Middle Eastern flatbreads are widely enjoyed across the region. On my first trip to the Middle East, they were one of my favorite foods, and I always make a point of seeking them out when I return. There’s nothing quite like a hot, freshly cooked flatbread, so I urge you to go to the effort of making them. I really like them sprinkled with za’atar and cut into triangles. Served hot, they are extremely popular as an appetizer.


  • 5 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 5 teaspoons superfine sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
  • 2 oz Sourdough Levain (see recipe below)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Za’atar (see recipe below)


Makes 6-8, depending on thickness and size

Put the flour, salt, and sugar in a large mixing bowl and mix together briefly. Add the water, sourdough levain, and olive oil and mix well to form a stiff dough. The dough may seem a bit dry, but don’t be tempted to add more water—just keep going until the dry ingredients are incorporated. Knead the dough for 10 minutes, until smooth. This will be quite hard work, so I recommend using a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook if you have one. 

Once the dough has been kneaded, transfer it to a large mixing bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Then set aside in a warm place to rest for at least 30 minutes. (You can make it in advance and leave it covered in plastic wrap for up to 12 hours, if you like). It won’t rise as dramatically as other breads, but it should puff up a little.

Heat a large, nonstick frying pan or grill pan over high heat. Pinch off a little ball of dough, about the size of a plum, and roll out on a floured work surface. Roll as thinly or thickly as you like, but ensure it is no thicker than 1⁄3 in. I prefer them rolled very thin. 

Place the flatbread in the hot pan and cook quickly on both sides until lightly spotted, about 2 minutes on each side. Keep the saj warm by wrapping them in a dish towel while you cook the rest. When the saj is nearly cooked, brush one side with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with homemade za’atar (see recipe below), and flip over to cook for 10 seconds before removing from the pan. Serve immediately.

To make the homemade za’atar:
Makes 1 x 3.5 oz jar

4 teaspoons sesame seeds
8 teaspoons dried oregano
4 teaspoons dried marjoram
4 teaspoons ground sumac
1 teaspoon sea salt
4 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted and ground

You will need a 3.5 oz clip-top jar with a rubber seal lid

Spoon all of the ingredients into a small jar and shake together to combine. Store for up to 6 months in a sealed airtight container.

To make the levain

3 oz sourdough starter
3/4 cup filtered or mineral water at room temperature
1 2/3 cups organic white bread flour

A levain is the stage between the starter and the bread dough. You take a small quantity of the sourdough starter and activate it. Sourdough levain is what I use in all of my sourdough baking recipes.

Place 3 oz. sourdough starter in a large mixing bowl and stir in the water. Add the flour and mix to a thick paste. Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature for at least 4 hours, after which time it will start to bubble. This shows it’s ready to bake with. The levain will remain active for up to 3 days, stored covered in plastic wrap on the kitchen countertop: just make sure you stir it well before use. After 3 days, it will become thin and runny again. At this point, keep back 3 oz to use as a starter for your next batch of levain. (As before, you will need to mix it with 3/4 cup water and 1 2/3 cups flour and then set it aside on the kitchen countertop for between 4 hours and 3 days until needed.)

Excerpted from Fermented: A Beginner's Guide to Making Your Own Sourdough, Yogurt, Sauerkraut, Kefir, Kimchi and More by Charlotte Pike. Photography by Tara Fisher. Kyle Books, 2015.

  • sourdough saj recipe by Charlotte Pike