Experimenting with Za’atar

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Za’atar is a Middle Eastern blend of herbs, sesame and salt. The blend varies from region to region, but is widely used. One of the main ingredients is Sumac. No, no, not the poison stuff we know in the NorthEastern US. Sumac spice is the dried, ground fruit of the Elm-Leaved Sumach or Tanner’s Sumach shrub.

I found a Chicken with Za’atar recipe in the July issue of Bon Appetit (http://tiny.cc/g0sg7) and made it a couple of weeks ago. Making the Za’atar proved to be a challenge because I cannot buy sumac spice locally. I was, however, able to purchase a package of pre-made za’atar. The recipe called for oregano and the pre-made was thyme based. The recipe called for cumin and the pre-made had none. Thyme goes well with chicken so not a problem. Adding cumin to the mix was easily done.

I substituted lime for the lemon since the better half is allergic.

Making the cumin aioli was very tedious, but well worth the effort. Whisking a drop or two of oil into the emulsion at a time is a slow process, but don’t take a short-cut and simply add cumin to mayo. Aiolis should always be made from scratch. Again, lime instead of lemon.

To accompany the dish, I made a Fattoush salad (http://tiny.cc/x7y4u). Fattoush is seasoned with za’atar so the theme continued. Since fattoush is made from local, fresh vegetables, I added some grilled corn to the recipe to give it a more local feel.

I added some grilled flat bread sprinkled with, you guessed it, za’atar. I basted the bread with EVOO, sprinkled with za’atar and threw it on the grill for a couple of minutes per side.

Great meal! Flavorful chicken, a bright, fresh salad and tasty bread. I am now going to order some sumac spice and experiment with regional variations. Should be fun and tasty.

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