For those of you who are not familiar za'atar, za'atar is a Middle eastern spice mixture. It is blend made from dried herb(s) namely wild thyme and wild oregano mixed together with flecks of sesame seeds, sumac and salt. For me the flavour is zesty and the fragrance can only be described as earthy.
In parts of the Middle East, zaatar is traditionally eaten as part of a breakfast with labneh (a yogurt cheese), olive oil and flatbread. But some of us will be more familiar with it as an hors d'oeuvre, aperitif or as a exotic salad dressing. Popularised in recent times by celebrity chefs, TV cooks or up-market fast food eateries in London.
I can't remember exactly how i discovered za'atar, I think it may have been one of the spice jars my mother in law brought back for me from Turkey along with sumac. Then I remembered the first time I went to Cyprus I had eaten a spiced flat bread at a market. This was made by a Turkish vendor selling home-made Turkish delights from his mobile van. I really wanted the lahmacun, something described as a Turkish pizza. Unfortunately for me it was made with minced meat, so I settled for a pizza like bread that was seasoned with herbs. I have to admit I thought it was going to be dull, but I was hungry and waited becoming slowly fascinated by the cooking techniques. I watched closely, first make the pizza like flatbread on a hot griddle, then drizzle it with olive oil, generously scatter over some za'atar and olives. This was then rolled like a cigara boregi and eaten on the go. It was truly one of the most delicious things I had eaten. I still remember the unique flavours .
Anyway, back to the present, whilst hunting through my tardis like kitchen cupboards, I came across a jar of za'atar. I remembered picking it up at a fair trade event during Refugee Week a little while ago, along with some delicious Palestinian olive oil. Both ingredients had been pushed to the back of the cupboard, so had not been used much, until today.
For those of you know of my greed for potato wedges, will not be surprised to learn that halfway through the roasting process, I generously sprinkled over some za'atar.
And after cutting the tomatoes in half, they too were given the same treatment, drizzled with olive oil and baked in the oven till they began to droop a little. Oh My gosh they were so tasty. But the overwhelming flavours did not stop there. Oh no there had to be some green on the plate and these spiced runner bean finished the dish off perfectly.
Runner Beans cooked in oil with paprika
250g runner beans,
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon paprika
pinch of cayenne pepper
garlic clove, crushed
salt and pepper to taste
Wash and top and tail the beans. Cut into diagonal slices. Heat the oil, paprika and cayenne pepper in a saucepan, then stir in the garlic and the beans. Pour in the water, bring to a boil, cover and simmer until the beans are tender. Check seasoning and serve. Adapted from Rose Elliot's Complete Vegetarian Cookbook.