Zahtar, a Pantry Special (Recipe: fattoush, a salad of pita bread, tomato and cucumber)
Pantry Specials are great ingredients that find their way into my pantry from time to time, but not all the time.
Zahtar, zatar, za'atar: what's in a name? Though the word means thyme in Arabic, the name also refers to a blend of sumac, sesame seeds, salt and dried green herbs (thyme, usually, but sometimes oregano, marjoram or parsley). Zahtar, a popular table condiment in the Middle East, is sprinkled on or cooked with meat and vegetable dishes. Most often it's ground in a mortar and pestle, so the texture remains a bit coarse. For a perfect snack, mix zahtar with a bit of olive oil, and smear it on pita bread or pizza. And don't worry: sumac, the dominant ingredient in zahtar, is not the poison sumac we're taught to avoid in the woods. This sumac, from the dark-red berries of a shrubby tree native to the Middle East and parts of Italy, has a tart, fruity, lemony flavor.
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How to use zahtar:
Pita pizza with hummus, eggplant pesto and zahtar
Turkish black-eyed pea salad with pomegranate, walnuts and zahtar dressing
Zahtar with labne (yogurt cheese)
Charred feta, pita and chicken kebabs
Zaatar pita chips
Zatar spiced meatballs
Za'atar spiced lavash crackers
Fattoush (a salad of pita, tomato and cucumber)
Light, healthy and easy, this is a salad to make when you can find ripe tomatoes and fresh mint at the market. I love to use the eight-inch mini cucumbers that come in bags at Costco; they have very thin skins and no seeds. Use the salad to fill a pita and add some garlic chicken for a complete meal. Serves 4.
2 oat-bran or whole wheat pita breads
2-3 large tomatoes, seeded and diced
3 mini cucumbers, diced
Handful of pitted Kalamata olives, cut in half
10 spearmint leaves, torn into small pieces
6 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp zahtar
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper, to taste
Toast the pitas in a dry frying pan or in the oven (set at 375°F) for 5 minutes or until slightly crispy. Set aside to cool.
In a large bowl, combine tomatoes, cucumbers, olives and mint.
In a small jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine oil, lemon juice, zahtar, salt and pepper. Shake well until the dressing is well mixed.
Tear the pita into bite-size pieces and add to the vegetables. Toss with the dressing, and serve.