Za'atar Lamb Chops
In the two weeks prior to this installment, I have made za’atarfeel extremely out of place. I placed it where it did not belong, on salmon skewers and in fried chicken. I am sure it was most uncomfortable, and extremely cross with me. Even if it was delicious.
This week, I wanted to placate za’atar with a slightly more traditional treatment. I was getting up to speed on Mad Men this week, and I was struck by Betty Draper’s “Around the World” dinner party, where every dish came from a new, far-flung location, starting in Spain, with gazpacho. Today, our dinner party starts in the Middle East, with succulent lamb, so typically paired with the region, highly seasoned with za’atar and olive oil and grilled, just three minutes per side, until the sumac and thyme and sesame are charred to a gorgeous smoking black and their perfumes violate the meat and seep into its very core while crusting the outside. So simple and fast, no one will believe you just transported them halfway around the world. I do love the unexpected, but sometimes the traditional can be just as delightful.
Za'atar Lamb Chops
serves 2 to start
- .6 pounds lamb chops (about 4)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons za’atar
- Olive oil for drizzling
Heat a grill pan on medium-high to high.
Dredge the lamb in the za’atar, and drizzle with olive oil. Sear the lamb chops 3 minutes per side. Serve with the spicy, creamy dipping sauce.
- 1/4 cup plain yogurt
- 1 tablespoon harissa (very spicy, alter to your liking)
- 1 teaspoon honey
Whisk to combine
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Some people have green bean casserole. For me, vegetable comfort food (not a contradiction in terms, I might add) is ratatouille in the summer and cauliflower or potato gratin under cooler, grayer skies.
Ratatouille, as I had it growing up, both in the house and in the south of France, is comforting because it’s a stew (even more comforting now that I’m grown because it’s a low-calorie stew!). The most comforting ratatouille I ever had was not in France at all, but in Monaco, where little perfect cubes ofeggplant, stoplight peppers, and zucchini melted into each other like a deconstructed Rubik’s cube collapsing in a sauce of onions and summertime tomatoes. With eggplants and zucchinis at their best in the summer, it’s a technicolor wonderland dish, that I generally eat cold, with the fridge still open, on a branch of baguette.
Za'atar Fried Chicken
Week two in my unorthodox treatment of za’atar continues with this recipe for za’atar-seasoned fried chicken. It’s a simple preparation: dip in buttermilk, roll in flour, fry in a cast iron pan. But the flour is doctored with a good dose of za’atar, a blend of salt and sumac and sesame: only thyme breaks up the consonance of the mix.
I like the contrast of the expected with the unexpected. The crispy, salty flake and shred of fried chicken. And then a tart bite from the sumac as it bleeds and stains the crust in the hot oil. The earthy thyme as it crisps against the chicken skin. And the ever-exotic nuttiness of toasting sesame seeds that always signal to Americans a recipe from a far off land. (Except, of course, in the case of bagels; unless Manhattan is indeed far off). Arabian Americana? Perhaps some would find it contradictory. But, William Blake did say the world is made up of contradictions. And I personally don’t mind them—so long as they taste good.
Za'atar Fried Chicken
- 1 1/2 pounds chicken drumettes
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 cup flour
- 3 tablespoons za’atar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Vegetable oil for frying
Place the chicken in a large baggie with the buttermilk, and place in the fridge for 1 to 2 hours.
In a pie plate, combine the flour, za’atar, and salt.
Meanwhile, fill a cast iron frying pan halfway with vegetable oil, and heat to 325 degrees F.
Allow any excess buttermilk to drip off the chicken. Dredge in the flour-za’atar-salt mixture.
Fry the drumettes 5 minutes on each side (10 minutes total). Remove to a cooling rack to drain. Serve immediately.
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Fines Herbes Salad
I’ve been appearing on a radio show on BBC Oxford recently, and was asked to highlight seasonal products and how to build a menu around them. By way of shameful confession, I am not always the best at this—need I bring up the vitriol that transpired after my watermelon-in-February recipe last winter? Completely justified!
In exploring the concept, I have realized that seasonal recipes are simpler, cheaper, easier to make (you don’t need to gild the lily, so to speak), and generally weather appropriate. Lettuce and herbs, used here for example, are at their prime in July when all you can bear is a light salad.
Za'atar Salmon Kebabs
Za’atar, to me, is perfectly exotic. Despite the fact that my Moroccan grandmother came over to taste these recipes, and scoffed “Za’atar!” in her perfect Arabic accent, as if she was shocked someone couldnot know about za’atar. That was then followed it by, “I don’t like it.” (She usually gives better advice.)
Za’atar, as with most Arabian and North African spice blends, comes in many iterations: maybe as many as there are grandmothers cooking in the area today. The one that I used (and that I believe to be most commonly sold in the US) is the Lebanese version, and contains the combination of dried thyme, white sesame seeds, salt, and sumac all in the same jar. Thus, the resulting combination is complex, with notes of salinity, nuttiness, astringence, and resin.
Today, I featured three recipes using only seasonal ingredients (seasonal especially in the UK in July, but seasonally available worldwide as well) on BBC Radio Oxford with Joel Hammer and his Sunday Brunch show (95.2 FM). Here is this week’s seasonal shopping list: