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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Gluten Free Herb Rolls

Gluten Free Zata'ar Rolls
Gluten Free Zataar Rolls and a Biscuit recipe
A.k.a. Middle Eastern Buns or Syrian Rolls
gluten free, egg free rolls, dairy free alternative

I’ve filled these rolls with a flavourful boost of spices, but you can easily use the dough for a variety of other things, like biscuits, cinnamon rolls, or sprinkle them with cheese and garlic powder. 

I’ve really missed Middle Eastern food.  I spent some time traveling in the Middle East a few years ago and actually had cooking classes in Egypt, back when I didn’t know I had a gluten problem.  Most of you probably don’t know that I have an MA in history, with a focus on the modern Middle East.  I’ve been closely following what’s been going on with the Arab Spring of course, and my heart goes out to the Syrian people right now.  It is a beautiful country to travel in, the amazing ancient sites were nearly empty, and people were incredibly friendly.  It makes me so sad to think of the destruction and death that has occurred there in the last year.    

Let me just say that Syrian food is some of the best food in the world, and is seriously underrepresented in the western world.  Even the Syrian airline had the best airplane food I’ve EVER had.  That airplane food beats out most restaurants any day!!

Alas, a lot of popular Middle Eastern food is built around flour and meat, two things I can’t or don’t eat.  So begins my journey to recreate some of my favorite, and others newly discovered, Middle Eastern foods.  Like my German fusion dishes (dumplings, cabbage rolls, spaetzle) I can’t claim my dishes as authentic, they’re more like Middle Eastern fusion because they are not glutinous and don't contain meat.  That said, numerous variations of these zataar rolls are served in tiny bake shops in the streets all over Syria.    
Zataar (pronounced zata’ar) is a popular spice mixture in the Middle East.  The combination varies, but it is usually a mix of spices such as sumac, oregano, thyme, basil, marjoram and savoury, often with sesame seeds as well.  Sumac is a lemony flavoured fruit that is dried and ground to a spice.  Zataar and Sumac are not always easy to find.  You can look for them in Middle Eastern shops, or some Asian stores, or online.  That said, be careful and check the ingredients!  I found zataar recently at an Asian market, but it had roasted wheat in it.   

Instead, you can create something similar without the sumac or pre-made zataar.  It won’t have quite the same tang, but it is super tasty nonetheless.  If you’ve ever had Middle Eastern food before, you’ll know that the cuisine does not shy from white flour, sugar, and butter, things many of us often try to avoid!!  I’ve added the option here of tossing in a bit of healthier flour but the starches are necessary or else it upsets the delicate biscuit-y like texture of the rolls (SEE NOTE UNDER INGREDIENTS FOR AN UPDATE) and makes them crustier so it’s difficult to add too much. 
Gluten Free Herb Roll-ups
Biscuit Ingredients:

½ c warm water
1 Tbsp yeast
1 tsp sugar

1c tapioca starch
1c cornstarch *
1 ½ c either sorghum, brown or white rice flour, garbanzo bean flour, lentil flour or mix of flours
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 tsp xanthan gum
Rice flour for dusting

3/4 c milk or yogurt brought to room temp.
¼ c oil (canola olive or coconut)
1-2 Tbsp melted butter or dairy free alternative

Zataar Mixture

4 Tbsp sumac (omit if you can't find it)
2 Tbsp thyme
1 Tbsp oregano
1Tbsp basil
½ Tbsp parsley
½ tsp salt
1 tsp sugar (optional)

*After several tries, I have found that the starches can in fact be cut way back, and I no longer use cornstarch (unless I could, by some miracle, find organic, GMO free cornstarch).  
How to Roll Zata'ar Rolls

1. Grease a baking sheet and/or line with parchment paper. 

2. Mix the water, yeast and sugar together and set aside to rise.  The yeast should begin to rise and bubble (if it doesn’t, you might need new yeast or warmer water.  The water should be warm to touch but not too hot to touch).

3. In the meantime, mix the dry ingredients together. 

4. Add the milk and oil and mix until blended (this will be pretty crumbly).  Add the yeast mixture and mix approximately 3 minutes or so, until well blended.  This will be a fairly gummy mixture.

5. Generously dust a flat surface with rice flour.  Turn the dough out on to it and dust with more rice flour. 

6. Knead about 5 or 6 times to work a bit of extra flour in, so the dough is not so sticky.  Then dust again and, using a rolling pin, roll the dough out about ¼” thick. 

7. Brush about 1 Tbsp of the melted butter liberally over the dough.  Sprinkle liberally with the spice mixture. 

8. Very carefully, using a knife or spatula to help, lift the edge of the dough nearest to you up and over to roll the dough.  Roll all the way to the opposite edge so you have a large log.  Using a wet, sharp knife, slice into rounds about 1- 1 ½” thick. 

Gluten Free Zata'ar Rolls
9. Lay the rolls out on the baking sheet, cut side up.  Brush with more melted butter. 

10. Allow the rolls to rise in a warm place, about 30 minutes.  There are a few ways to do this – place a bowl of hot water in the bottom of the oven and put the baking sheet on a rack over top.  Or, heat the oven to 250F, then turn it off and place the sheet inside. 

11. After the rolls have puffed up somewhat, remove from the oven.  Heat oven to 375F, return the baking sheet, and bake for about 20 minutes, until slightly browned on top and a bit crusty on the sides.   

These are wonderful eaten warm!!!  

What is your favorite Middle Eastern food?  

 * *OAS Info: Some of the herbs listed here are also found on the Oral Allergy Syndrome chart.  If you have OAS and react to certain herbs (although these are dried, which *should* kill the allergen protein) you may want to substitute with something you know is safe. 

This post is linked to the following great sites:
Meatless Mondays on My Sweet and Savory, Melt in your mouth Monday on Make Ahead Meals for Busy Moms, Monday Mania on the Healthy Home Economist, Just Another Meatless Monday on Hey What's for Dinner Mom? Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays on Simply Sugar and Gluten Free, Traditional Tuesdays on Cooking Traditional Foods, Tasty Tuesdays on 33 Shades of Green, Tuesday's Tasty Tidbits on Permanent Posies

Gluten Free Meal Plan via Musings of a Housewife Monday Meals


  1. My mouth is watering!!! These look wonderful and sound so tasty. I am just now beginning to experiment with foods from other cultures. I believe I'm going to give these a try with cinnamon-sugar. My children would love it! Thanks for sharing ☺

    1. I think one of the worst things about being gluten intolerant is that I can't just try any food I want!! I used to love experimenting with ethnic foods. That said, I think a bit of cinnamon and sugar and perhaps a glaze on these and you'd have a great cinnamon bun :) It's really the herb mix that makes it a bit more "exotic".

  2. One, I adore that cute little light! Second, this looks like a great site! I have some inlaws who are celiac and I going to pass along your URL.

    1. Thanks, Melissa :) I love my little kitchen nightlight too!

  3. Stumbled on this today... can't tell you how much I appreciate your site and recipes. THANK YOU.


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