Suggestions for using Middle Eastern spice blends
My daughter just returned from a trip to Dubai and brought me bags of za'atar and ras el hanout. I'd love some suggestions for using these spice blends. Thanks!
Za'atar is a condiment generally made from wild thyme, sesame seeds, sumac and a variety of regional spices. It's generally eaten as a dip with pita bread and good olive oil. Paint it onto flatbread that you crisp slightly in the oven and you have an easy version of manakish (also called za'atar bread) that is terrific with fresh cheese and tomatoes. I have always thought of za'atar as a condiment, best sprinkled on yogurt, cheese, hummus or popcorn, but a lot of people swear it is a terrific rub for roast chicken or lamb.
Ras el hanout is a much more complex blend of spices that would be very much at home in a braise or tagine. You can use it to season rice or couscous, or mix with some fruity olive oil for a dressing for pasta salad paired with sweet vegetables. Use it as a rub for grilled meats. If you have a sweeter variety that incorporates cinnamon and rose flavors, you can also make cookies or spiced fruits with the blend.
I love making a Fattoush salad with the za'atar. It's just a chopped green salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, green pepper, red onion, toasted pita bread, and a light dressing made of lemon juice and a good fruity olive oil. Finish it by sprinkling the za'atar on it before serving.
I also love it with Lebneh, which is a simple yogurt cheese. You make the cheese and roll it into little balls. Pour a bit of good olive oil over them and sprinkle with the za'atar.
It is also delicious as a rub for chicken or turkey.
As for the ras el hanout, a nice lamb tagine or lamb shank stew with lots of dried fruit, olives and some of the spice is delicious. I also make a delicious bulghur wheat pilaf with the ras el hanout. Just sautee some onions until lightly brown, add the ras el hanout, some dried fruit like raisins and apricots, the coarse bulghur, chicken stock and when it's cooked, add some toasted pine nuts to it.
The other thing I love with the Ras el Hanout is a "Moroccan style" carrot salad. Cut the carrots into rounds, lightly steam until just barely tender, toss with some chopped fresh mint, olive oil, salt and pepper, and a bit of the ras el hanout.
My father-in-law likes it just sprinkled on pita bread and then he bakes the pita for a quick snack.
you can also add it to hummus or yogurt dips