Last night I hosted a housewarming party at my new apartment. Each guest appeared at my door toting a bottle or two of wine, a six-pack of beer or the occasional small housewarming gift. Then, a new-ish friend of mine arrived and dug into her bag a moment. She whipped out a small Ziploc bag with a mound of moss-green, fuzzy-looking dried plantlife at the bottom.
“It’s Za’atar!” she exclaimed.
My suspicions cleared, I excitedly opened the – ahem – little green bag and sniffed deeply. And here I am, less than twenty-four hours later (or twenty-three, if you factor in the daylight savings change) inhaling every bite of this freshly baked Za’atar bread. I’m high as a kite.
You see, Za’atar bread (also spelled Zaatar bread or called manakish) was an old favorite from my eating out in
My friend told me she’d brought back the spice mixture from a recent trip to
The other, and perhaps the easiest, way of procuring Za’atar is to mix it up yourself. Za’atar is primarily made from salt, sesame seeds and dried thyme, marjoram, hyssop, oregano or a mix of these herbs. The word Za’atar can also stand for whichever herb makes up its main ingredient, which varies regionally. I think there’s a faint reddish or brownish tint to the Za’atar in my bag from
The addition of Feta on Za’atar bread is something that I borrowed from Zaytoons, where you could order yours with or without the cheese. The addition of fresh parsley sprinkled on top, after baking, is not. I had tons of it leftover from the previous night’s hors d’oeurves and thought it would make a nice complement. I added some extra toasted sesame seeds, too, since I just like them a lot and have some. I also finished my recipe with a squirt of lemon for a little extra tang and fresh flavor. Za’atar bread has a tendency of being starved for moisture, which makes your mouth gravitate towards the oiliest bits.
Actually, you don’t need a heck of a lot of olive oil to turn out a really mean Za’atar bread, as I’d imagined. Two tablespoons was plenty to first emulsify the ground herb mixture and then to slather it over the dough’s surface. I personally think that extra-virgin olive oil is one of the most needlessly over-used ingredients in our time, with restaurants pumping gallons into a simple plate of pasta, and television chefs encouraging you to drizzle it on almost everything, extolling its virtues for your cholesterol, your skin, your overall happiness and well-being at the same time. All the same, just remember that one tablespoon holds 120 calories. One hundred and twenty.
Za’atar Bread with Feta and Parsley
(makes about 4 appetizer-sized servings, or two main)
half a pie’s worth of dough purchased raw from a pizza shop (or any half-recipe for pizza dough)
1 tablespoon za’atar mixture (see below)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds (optional)
1/2 cup Greek Feta crumbles
1 cup parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
for the za’atar mixture:
(Mix up a lot and keep it stored so you don’t have to with each use. Make sure that the dried herbs are ground first to a powdery, fluffy consistency in a spice grinder or clean coffee grinder.)
1/2 cup dried thyme, marjoram, oregano, or combination
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Stretch out the dough evenly and spread onto a round or rectangular baking pan – whichever you prefer. In a small bowl, combine the za’atar spice mixture, olive oil and optional sesame seeds. Mix with a spoon. Spread the resulting paste onto the dough. Top with feta crumbles. Bake for about 8 minutes, until the edges of the crust are just slightly browned. Remove from oven and top evenly with the parsley and the fresh lemon juice. Cut into wedges and serve.
(for 2 main servings)
1 tablespoon za’atar spice mixture (free for me, but going on the homemade version with mostly ground thyme, about): $0.30
half a pie’s
worth of raw pizza dough (at $3): $1.50
2 tablespoons olive oil: $0.35
1/2 cup feta crumbles (at $2.99/lb): $0.50
juice from half a lemon: $0.17
1 cup parsley (at $1/bunch): $0.50
Six brownie points: Despite the small amount of oil or fats, this is a salty dish. You’ll want to keep in mind when putting yours together that za’atar is already quite salty, so you don’t want to go too crazy with the Feta, which is salty too, and you also don’t want to overpower either one. That said, fresh parsley is a great source of all your deep, dark leafy green nutrients like Vitamin K, C, A, beta carotene and calcium, so go as crazy with it as you want.