Sunday, October 18, 2009

Discovering Spices/Zaatar Pizza

One of these days I'm going to set off with a backpack and a notebook and discover the world one spice at a time. I want to explore and learn more about different cultures based on the flavors that define them: moles in Mexico, curries in India, chilies in Thailand, the possibilities are endless. I do think that graduating before I run off would probably be the best idea, so right now I am working on bringing the flavors of the world to my kitchen. Sometimes this intimidates me, foreign spices are, well, foreign and I am not totally comfortable with their depths of flavor. Anyhow, since I don't want to be a total ignoramus when I do set off on my voyage, I just go with it and hope for the best. So far, things have turned out pretty tasty to say the least.

Za’atar is a mix of sumac, wild thyme, sesame seeds and salt. Its complex flavors are earthy and bright, and it can be used for infinite purposes: as a dry rub on meat, sprinkled on hummus, and almost anywhere else you want (after tasting it, you’ll want it everywhere). When I was younger, Za’atar dominated my summers; afternoons spent at my Lebanese friends’ house were filled with games, swimming and most importantly pitas with creamy, tangy labneh and za’atar. When these friends moved away so did the za’atar, but its ethereal flavor lingered in my memory. I had never learned its name, so for years I wondered how I would ever find the beloved “green stuff on top of pita” again.

Finally, last summer on a trip to Israel, za’atar came back into my life. On that trip I ate as much of it as possible and despite its propensity to get caught in my teeth, I was hooked yet again. It has taken me over a year to buy it myself, but finally last weekend at my favorite ‘museum,’ Kalustyan’s spice store, I bought my very own za’atar. This week it has brightened almost every meal, and I have made this naan pizza with za’atar and goat cheese more than once. The chewy sweet naan is a perfect backdrop for the tangy goat cheese and intense za’atar. Like a more sophisticated version of my favorite childhood snack, this ‘pizza’ is flavorful and, as my friend described it, “addictively savory.” Although I have eaten this spice before, this is the first time I have cooked with it, a baby step towards the realm of unknown flavors. Soon enough, there will be leaps and bounds as I am conquering the world, one spice at a time.

Za’atar Pizza
• Za’atar can be hard to find, feel free to replace it with a ¼ cup of store-bought pesto or even arugula pesto, just spread it on the naan instead of the olive oil and za’atar.
• Naan is pretty easy to find, but if you can't just use pita bread.
• If you can't serve it right away, you can always reheat it at 375-degrees for 3-4 minutes.

1 whole wheat naan pita
2 tbsp. olive oil
3 tbsp. za’atar
3 tbsp. crumbled goat cheese

1) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2) Brush the naan with the olive oil and sprinkle the za’atar evenly over the top.
3) Bake until it is golden and crispy, about 7 minutes.
4) Sprinkle the goat cheese over it. Put it back in the oven for 2-3 minutes, until the cheese is just slightly melted and warm. Serve immediately.


Marion said...

J'aime beaucoup ces recettes venues d'ailleurs, aux saveurs que l'on n'a pas l'habitude de trouver dans nos plats. Ton za'atar m'intrigue beaucoup!

Deeba @Passionate About Baking said...

This is a beautiful post. I have a bag of sumac and don't know what to do with it beyond a certain point. Have used it on lavash,some savoury cheese cookies and in a few marinades. Za'atar is another mix I need to explore. I like your blog. It's lovely!!

El said...

I've never tried Za' atar before. I'll definitely have to hunt it down at the spice store. I love the idea of using it on pita with goat cheese. The pizza looks delicious!

Jess said...

Hi, Frenchie. First of all, about discovering the world "one spice at a time:" Have you seen Ana Sortun's cookbook Spice? It is organized by spice, and it's terrific.

And about za'atar: I love the stuff. I've been eating it a lot recently over eggs, any style. And sprinkled on lentils and rice when I need a break from cumin.

Another place where you can find za'atar is in kosher supermarkets. They almost always have at least one brand imported from Israel.

kiss my spatula said...

this looks just amazing and the flavor combos out of this world!

Anonymous said...

I was fortunate to have tried this unbelievably tasty and different appetizer/pizza! It was amazing!! I was also given the opportunity to watch TBD chef/blogger prepare this dish on her own, and i'll tell you right now, it's worth trying to replicate!!!

Faith said...

I love your idea of exploring the world through spices! This pizza sounds really fantastic. My husband (who's Arabic) introduced me to za'atar a couple years ago...he just dipped Arabic bread first in olive oil and then za'atar and ate it along with breakfast. It was delicously earthy and pungent and aromatic. I was hooked!

Taste of Beirut said...

Thanks for explaining zaatar to the world! I love it, grew up on it, and can't live without it!

Karine said...

I would love to travel for food:)

It is the first time I hear about za'ater and it sounds delicious!

Meadowlark said...

I adore Za' atar. And yes, on pizza grilled over charcoal, with maybe some coarse salt, olive oil and feta... YUM YUM!

It's one of the spices I sent to YoungSon in his care packages. A young man can only do without so many things. We do not count Za' atar among those things. :)

Mochachocolata Rita said...

i havent tried zatar, i definitely have to add it to my "to try" list :)

huebscher said...

za'atar = pizza magic, and no one ever guesses the secret ingredient!

Arielle said...

mmmmm LOVE LOVE LOVE zatar
especially DUMPED in a container of hummus.