During the dark revision period, where I was frantically cramming for my IR module on the international politics of the Middle East, I was also cramming my face with some delicious treats from the Middle East. We are always hearing about conflict in the region, yet we never hear of the tasty delicacies the region has to offer. I want you to introduce you to the culinary delight that is Za’atar.
Za’atar is an everyday staple in the Middle East; a herb mix of wild thyme, toasted sesames and sumac. It’s a zesty seasoning, delicious with olive oil on fresh bread, on tomato salads or rubbed into chicken before serving. It is a commonly held belief that that eating Za’atar makes you smarter, which could prove yet another excuse for to munch away.
Now, thanks to Zaytoun, a community interest company founded in 2004 to create and develop a UK market for artisan Palestinian produce, you can receive fair-trade Za’atar from farmers in the occupied Palestinian territories (they also sell delicious olive oil). Zaytoun’s za’atar is sourced from a women’s cooperative in Jenin and is harvested from wild growing herbs.
Here are some tasty recipes that I tried out as delicious procrastination in January:
Wholemeal Za’atar, feta, chilli and sundried tomato bread.
1 lb 4 oz (570 g) wholewheat flour, plus a little extra for the top of the bread
2 level teaspoons salt
1 level teaspoon soft light brown sugar
2 level teaspoons easy-blend dried yeast
About 400 ml of lukewarm water
Begin by warming the flour slightly in the oven for about 10 minutes, then turn the oven off for now. Next, tip the warm flour into a large mixing bowl and all you do is simply sprinkle on the salt, sugar, easy-blend yeast, and most importantly the Za’atar and mix these together thoroughly, make a well in the centre and pour in the lukewarm water.
Take a wooden spoon and begin to mix the warm liquid into the flour gradually to form a dough: the exact amount of water you’ll need will depend on the flour. Finish off by mixing with your hands until you have a smooth dough that leaves the bowl clean – there should be no bits of flour or dough remaining on the sides of the bowl and, unlike pastry, it is better to have too much water than too little.
Now roll out the dough until flat and place the chilli, feta cheese and sundried tomatoes as if you were putting toppings on a pizza. After, fold over the rolled out dough twice.
Now fit the dough into the tin, pressing it firmly all-round the edges so that the top will already be slightly rounded. Next, sprinkle the surface with a generous dusting of flour, then cover the tin with a damp, clean tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for 30-40 minutes or at room temperature for about an hour.
Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to gas mark 6, (200°C). When the dough has risen to the top of the bread tin or tins, bake the bread for 40 minutes.
When the bread is cooked, turn it out on to a cloth to protect your hands – it will sound hollow when rapped underneath with your knuckles. Then return the bread, out of its tin, upside down to the oven for a further 5-10 minutes to crisp the base and sides. Cool the bread on a wire.
Then tuck into this deliciously tasty meal, serve with lashings of olive oil and Za’atar.
1 tablespoon of garlic paste
8 pieces of chicken
3 heaped tablespoons of za’atar
Zest and juice of two lemons
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons oregano
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to gas mark 6 (200°C).
Place chicken in a glass baking dish. Sprinkle za’atar over chicken. Add 4 tablespoons oil, lemon zest and juice, rosemary, chilli and oregano, salt and pepper. Mix together with hands and leave to marinate overnight.
Put on a BBQ or under the grill until cooked and sprinkle with some more lovely za’atar and serve with a mint and cucumber yogurt or spicy tomato salsa.
Image Credit- Sjschen