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Jul 1, 2009 01:36 PM

*July 2009 COTM* SPICE: Mint, Oregano, and Za’atar

Our Chowhound July 2009 Cookbook of the Month is Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean by Ana Sortun.

Please post your full-length recipe reviews here for dishes from Chapter Eight --
Mint, Oregano, and Za’atar, page 228 to 247. Please mention the name of the recipe you are reviewing and the page number, if possible, as well as any modifications you made to the recipe. Let us know if you would like to make the recipe again, and if you would change anything in the future, too. Photos welcome!

A reminder that the verbatim copying of recipes to the boards is a violation of the copyright of the original author. Posts with copied recipes will be removed.

Thanks for participating and enjoy!

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  1. Francisco's Manaaesh (Flatbread with Za'atar), p. 240

    I made the dough and used half for the Scallop Pizza (p.92), and half for flatbread. I used a stand mixer for the dough (flour, water, yeast, olive oil), and had a bit of trouble. It stayed sticky and never pulled away from the sides, so I stopped after about 12 minutes. The dough is then put in the refrigerator to rise for at least 2 hours or overnight. I made the pizza the same day, and used the overnight dough for the flatbread. The recipe calls for some pre-planning as the dough then has to rise at room temp for another 1-1/2 hours before spreading into a rectangle and brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with za'atar and salt, and then resting for another 30 minutes before baking at 375 for 15-20 minutes.

    She mentions using green Jordanian za'atar, but I used Penzey's. This made a nice flatbread to accompany muhammara, but the dough took a lot of time and so I prefer the easier version from "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day".

    4 Replies
    1. re: Rubee

      Rubee: Yeah, it's sure nice to have that dough in the fridge ala Artisan Bread in 5 Mins. a Day.

      I am currently on the opposite track, making Nancy Silverton's labor and time-intensive starter from scratch! I find myself longing for the 5 Min a Day deal.

      1. re: Rubee

        Francisco's Manaaesh (Flatbread with Za'atar), p. 240

        I have been going through a lot of pita bread (muhammara addiction), so I made this to supplement my store bought stuff. For me, the dough came together easily. I used my KA but next time I think I'll hand knead, as the olive oil made the dough easy to work with. Perhaps because I used instant rather than active dry and got to skip the yeast proofing, my dough was less wet than yours Rubee? Who knows, bread is tempermental IMO. Anyway, we liked the bread very much, and ate it all in 2 days. Next time I will use more za'atar, and use a bigger baking sheet, so I can spread out the dough for a thinner result. Next time I'll make a double batch too, and freeze half.

          1. re: yamalam

            Looks great! And the texture looks better than mine. I can't bake. I got a boost of confidence making "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day", but I'm pretty sure the problem with the manaeesh dough when I made it was me ; ). Glad you liked the recipe!

      2. Ground beef and pistachio kebobs, page 236

        I have to confess that I did not not have an open mind when I started cooking this recipe for lunch today. I was already sure that I will not like it, but I am happy it proved me wrong.

        First you knead ground beef with chopped roasted bell pepper, kebob spice mix and Aleppo chilies in a standing mixer (I don’t have one, so I used fp). Since Sortum says that this is an important step as it aerates the mixture and I had doubled the recipe, I mixed it in fp in 3 batches. At this point the mixture had pretty brick color and the texture of the beef was very smooth and silky. Then add egg white, roasted chopped pistachios (which seemed too many while adding, but not while eating) and place them on skewers. Sortum suggest to grill them, but I broiled them 3-4 minutes each side. I took them out on a plate, vs pita as she suggest. I think letting them, rest on pita is a great idea to collect the juices, but I did not want to serve pita from the start of the meal to my toddler, as this would be her primary focus and not the meat and veggies. I served the meal with red onions and sumac, pita (which I brought out after half of the meal) and roasted broccoli. It was lacking yogurt (or maybe some yogurt sauce), which I missed till the sangria had not kicked in.

        7 Replies
        1. re: cpw

          Still need to post about this with my photos, but we really liked this too, though it was actually quite expensive b/c of the pistachios and ground lamb! My skewers were a bit short, so I think I made twelve kofte, and then grilled them on my grill pan. I served them on rice, with the yogurt, red onions with sumac, chopped tomatoes and chopped romaine lettuce, and it made a pretty quick and easy meal. I loved the addition of hte pistachios. Oh - and I did use my stand mixer, and because the mixture seemed a bit dry to me, I added some olive oil. I cooked up and tasted three small patties, adding more salt each time.

          1. re: MMRuth

            This is one of my favorite recipes. I've learned to double the spices, including the red pepper paste. I was using TJ's grass fed ground beef, but haven't seen it in a while, and the kebabs always turned out nice and juicy.

            1. re: emily

              I think the spices defnitely need doubling in this recipe. We liked it well enough, but it definitely lacked "oomph", which was surprising given the amount of aleppo chilli in there. It didn't help though, probably, that I completely forgot to add salt and I really couldn't be bothered to take the kebabs off their sticks to do that. So they were underseasoned - duh! Unlike others, I don't seen the point of the pistachios and would probably omit them if I make it again - which I probably will if only to use up the rest of the spice mix! (I used beef, btw, but would probably try lamb next time.)

              I served this with khoobz (flatbread), chopped tomatoes, red onions tossed with sumac, as suggested, and a beetroot in yoghurt recipe which is also from Spice, which I will report on in the relevant thread.

            2. re: MMRuth

              I used ground beef, and I am sure the would be tastier with lamb. For this time atleast I was happy to use pistachios, as it was sitting in the freezer from some while and occupying *prime real estate*.

              1. re: cpw

                I would like to report that I had 2 kind of left overs, and we did not enjoy them later.

                The first ones were cooked leftovers, which I reheated in the oven - covered with foil. I served them with tomotoes, onion and yogurt, but nothing was enough to cover up the dryness.

                The second ones was premixed beef mixture, which I cooked later. These were also very dry and somehow the juices from the meat was absorbed by the pistachios rendering the meat dry and the pistachios tasteless.

              2. re: cpw

                I made this with ground lamb and almonds instead, and we really liked them. kids devoured them and super easy to put together. OK - will try to right more later but two kids are crying...time to turn off chowhound

              3. Moussaka, pp. 166-169

                I made this today and even though it was quite hot (for SFBayarea), I managed to get through it without much sweating and groaning. The recipe is for lamb steak with Turkish spices and moussaka. The moussaka has ground lamb, so I decided not to make the steaks.

                I realized about halfway through the recipe that I'd forgotten to get kasseri cheese. I didn't even have feta, which I almost always keep on hand. The only cheese I had besides ricotta was some salted mizritha I bought a couple of weeks ago when I grabbed the salted rather than the plain mizritha I wanted to use for a pie in Elizabeth David's Mediterranean cookbook.

                This was quite a production. The recipe calls for brushing olive oil on the eggplant slices and baking them in the oven. I just couldn't stand to turn on the oven in the middle of this hot day and so grilled them on the Weber.

                First you brown the lamb in olive oil and butter with the garlic and onion. You then add tomato paste and cinnamon and golden raisins and cook it down until it's "fluffy" and "glazy" (her words). Well, I certainly didn't think it looked fluffy, but I could see "glazy". You cool it down and stir in chopped parsley and mint and season with s&p.

                Potatoes are then boiled and mashed and seasoned with s&p. I then grilled the eggplant which got a little burnt, but I managed to scrape off those parts.

                You then make a roux with butter and flour and add milk and cook until thickened, then add nutmeg, a 1/2 cup of plain yoghurt and the cheese (I grated the mizritha into the sauce - it got a bit grainy and didn't blend into the sauce, but it tasted great. She actually says that if you want a smooth sauce you can blend it. I didn't bother.

                Her moussaka is baked and served in individual souffle dishes. I was beginning to wish I had a swimming pool to jump into at this point and decided on one large pan instead.
                From here on, it's pretty much the usual prep for moussaka: layers of potatoes, lamb/tomato/onion mixture, grilled eggplants and sauce. I baked it in the oven and it tasted very good. My husband thought it was much more than just good. He loved it. I have been hearing him in the kitchen taking bites all evening (after dinner). I served it with a salad of romaine, frisee, radicchio, dandelion greens, tomatoes, green onions and some wonderful long striped cukes I got in the box last Friday. I'm sure the lamb steaks in the marinade would have been great with this, but it was just too much work on a hot day and I already stood over the grill while the eggplants cooked.

                For dessert we had another of her recipes - figs poached in red wine. I'll report on that in the proper thread (Allspice, Cinnamon and Nutmeg).

                1. Crispy Lemon Chicken with Za'atar, p. 245

                  We loved this! There's only a few simple ingredients - basically, lemon, butter, and za'atar - but takes a fair amount of work with time for the lemon confit, boning a whole chicken, and the spatter from cooking under a brick.

                  I made the lemon confit the day before. Lemon is thinly sliced and poached for a couple of hours over low heat in olive oil, drained, cooled, and refrigerated. I also coarsely chopped it before using it. I boned a 4-pound chicken the day before (cut in half, cut off wings, and boned) too. To cook, cubes of butter and lemon confit are stuffed under the skin, the breast and thigh folded up against each other to make a round shape and "create marbled meat", and then cooked in olive oil and butter, weighed down with a brick ( I used a concrete paver wrapped in tinfoil). Finally, serve sprinkled with za'atar. I don't have green Jordanian za'atar, and used Penzey's.

                  Both of us kept commenting on how juicy and flavorful this was with the layered dark and white meat. The skin was crispy and tasty topped with za'atar (sumac, thyme, sesame seeds, salt) and the meat was nicely seasoned with lemon throughout. Delicious, and E's always happy when he doesn't have to deal with bones. I served with Ottolenghi's Saffron Cauliflower (also a winner). Next time I would use toothpicks to help it keep its shape a bit, and use a smaller chicken, although the leftovers will be great in sandwiches.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Rubee

                    Wow! I tried that recipe a few months ago when the book was first under consideration and had a totally different experience. Wrote sort of a mini-report here:


                    Quite shocking how two different people trying the same recipe can have such totally different experiences. Glad yours was such a good one.

                    1. re: JoanN

                      I appreciated your report, and did pay attention to what you wrote, especially about it not being crispy! As a result, I blotted the skin well and decided to let it air-dry uncovered for 20-30 minutes, and also started the chicken in a cast-iron pan over very high heat. The lemon confit really seemed to permeate the meat, and we both loved that it was a combination of boneless white and dark meat.