Many moons ago when I was exploring Mediterranean cuisine I fell in love with fattoush, the Northern Lebanese salad, essentially made up of greens, parsley, mint, green onions or chives, cucumbers and tomatoes, tossed in a lemony olive=oil vinaigrette, and served garnished with toasted pita generously sprinkled with sumac powder. The earthy, sour flavour of the sumac really defined this salad for me, and from that day sumac was permanently added to my spice collection.
This indigenous spice is native to western Asia, the Arab peninsula and the Mediterranean. The sumac berry, when harvested, is dried and ground, resulting in a deep wine-coloured powder which is used extensively in the cooking of the eastern Mediterranean countries. The colour is so intense that it leaves its tell-tale colour wherever it touches.
Sumac powder is also one of the main ingredients in zaatar, a Middle Eastern and Mediterranean spice staple. It is most loved from Palestine to Israel and across the shores of Syria, Jordan and Egypt. This spice mix is a blend of dried sumac berries, toasted sesame seeds and dried green native thyme. The resulting flavour is tart, herbal and nutty.
With the explosion of ethnic foods in recent times zaatar has become a mainstream spice, easily so because it lends such big delightful flavours to breads, eggs, meats, legumes, vegetables, dips and salads, pretty much across the board of savoury foods. It’s one of those spices that can brighten the flavour of any Mediterranean-inspired dish. It’s available ready mixed at your closest Mediterranean/Lebanese food shop and has also gained a place next to the sumac in my spice collection – and it should be in yours as well!
1 tbs instant yeast
4½ cups all-purpose flour
1¼ tsp salt
1 cup hot water (120F)
1 cup hot milk
¼ cup olive oil
salt to sprinkle
olive oil to sprinkle
2 tbs zaatar to garnish
In a work bowl, combine 2 cups flour, yeast, salt, add hot water, milk and olive oil.
Stir in rosemary.
Mix well with a wooden spoon, add the remaining flour ½ cup at a time until a soft dough just clears the side of the bowl is formed.
The dough will be sticky and soft.
Oil dough and cover, let rest until it has risen to twice its size, about 45 minutes to 60 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400 F
Oil a baking sheet. and spread dough onto sheet.
Let rest for 10 minutes, then using your fingertips dimple dough all over, drizzle with a little olive oil, sprinkle with zaatar and salt.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until golden and bread springs back when pressed.
Remove and cool.
Makes one large flatbread 17 by 11 inches
Zataar crusted leg of lamb
4 lb leg of lamb
2 tbs Dijon mustard
8 cloves garlic minced
4 tbs red wine vinegar
2 tsp coarsely-cracked black pepper
4 tbs zaatar
2 tbs olive oil
2 tsp salt
Combine mustard, garlic, vinegar, pepper, zaatar and olive oil.
Rub marinade over lamb, cover and refrigerate overnight.
Before roasting remove lamb from refrigerator, bring to room temperature, rub salt over lamb.
Preheat oven to 375F and roast lamb for 1 to 1½ hours or until done.
Lamb is usually at its best when a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part registers 140F
Allow roast to rest for 15 mins before carving.
Serves 8 to 10
Zataar roasted chicken
1 4-lb chicken cut into half
2 tbs olive oil
2 tbs unflavoured yoghurt
2 tbs fresh lime juice
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp allspice powder
1 tsp cinnamon powder
1 tsp freshly-ground black pepper
2 tbs zaatar
2 tbs olive oil
The night before marinate chicken in olive oil, yoghurt, lime juice, garlic, allspice and cinnamon powders.
Next morning preheat oven to 400F on roast option, remove chicken from marinade, place on lined baking tray, breast side up, sprinkle with zaatar and olive oil, additional salt may be added.
Roast for 30 to 40 minutes until golden, cooked and fragrant.