We were housebound yesterday, in the grips of yet another “winter storm” (I remember when this was just called “winter”). A lot of snow fell! The birds were frantic at the feeder (oh! A robin!), flapping against the wind to get some much needed nourishment and even the dog didn’t want to venture more than a few steps from the door to do what she needed to. I’m still not 100% in my flu recovery. It seems to take half the energy I can muster just to get my energy up. But I am well enough to want to thumb my nose at this weather and cook up something that transports me to someplace warmer. Friends of ours in Qatar are celebrating the end of “indoor space heater” weather and a return to cozy afternoons spent at playgrounds, basking in the life giving warmth that is still missing from the sunshine here. With them in mind, I mixed up some Za’atar – a lovely blend of spices, sesame seeds and sumac, a tangy purple herb that brightens everything it touches. It spent some time with a little roasting chicken and some potato wedges, along with garlic, oil and lemon. Flavours of a sunnier place, to be sure. There is some debate about the herb(s) in Za’atar. Thyme? Oregano? Marjoram? Actual Za’atar leaf (which I have personally never come across)? Is cumin authentic? Should the sesame seeds be toasted or no? In the end, I do what I like, combining flavours into a blend that pleases me. If you’re able to find sumac, grab it. It adds a bright, tangy punch to foods. But if you can’t, Za’atar itself is becoming more widely available. And of course, both can be ordered online pretty much anywhere you may be. Along with sprinkling over roasted or grilled chicken and potatoes, Za’atar makes a wonderful topping for flatbread. It can also be stirred into dips, or used to flavour hummus or salad dressing. Treat it like any seasoning blend, and try it wherever you want a new flavour. Za’atar popcorn, anyone?
4 teaspoons sesame seeds, toasted 1 teaspoon kosher salt 4 teaspoons sumac 2 teaspoons oregano 2 teaspoons thyme 1 teaspoon cumin powder (if you have whole cumin seed, toast and grind it with the sesame seeds) Grind the sesame seeds and salt together. I like doing this in a mortar and pestle because it gives me more control over the texture. You don’t want the seeds to become pasty at all. Blend this with the rest of the ingredients and store in an airtight container (I keep it in the fridge because I worry about the ground sesame going rancid). It will keep for some time, but you’ll probably use it before it can go off.
Combine the zest and juice of a lemon with a finely minced or grated clove of garlic. Stir in a tablespoon of Za’atar and 3 tablespoons of oil. Pour over chicken in a zip top bag and marinate for a few hours or overnight. Sprinkle with a little more Za’atar and grill or roast as desired. This is also a great marinade for roasted potato wedges, and other veggies, especially if you grill them.
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