Za’atar refers to a plant whose leaves have been used in cooking since ancient times in the Middle East, but it is also the name for a very popular spice mix used throughout that part of the world. A fragrant blend of dried herbs, often including thyme and oregano, as well as sesame seeds and sumac (a spice with a tangy lemon taste made from ground berries), za’atar adds a robust flavor to many dishes. Rub it on grilled meats or chicken, or sprinkle it over yogurt or hummus. Or use it in a delicious dressing for a spring salad like the one that my friend Joy Howard created.
I first spotted this dressing on Joy’s Instagram feed, and immediately wanted to try it. Instead of using dried herbs she chops fresh thyme and oregano, then combines them with sumac, sesame seeds, and garlic. Mixed with lemon juice and olive oil, the za’atar quickly becomes a dressing. For this salad, soft, tender greens work best. You toss them with grape tomatoes and thinly sliced radishes, then add a sprinkle of feta and toasted almonds.
I found sumac in a local specialty store and fresh oregano and thyme at the supermarket, but the latter will soon be popping up in my herb garden! Serve the salad with warm pita breads, and if you want to make it a main course, add some grilled chicken or lamb.
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Spring Salad with Joy’s Za’atar Dressing
Za’atar Salad Dressing
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tbsp minced fresh thyme
1 tbsp minced fresh oregano
1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds (see note)
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp sumac (see note)
2 tsp lemon juice
4 radishes, trimmed and sliced very thinly
10 yellow or red grape tomatoes, halved
5 oz mild or sweet mixed greens (Boston lettuce, baby spinach, baby romaine work well)
1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted (see note)
1/2 cup crumbled feta
1. In a medium nonreactive bowl, whisk together the olive oil, thyme, oregano, sesame seeds, garlic, sumac, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and lemon juice. (Dressing can be prepared 4 days ahead; cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature and whisk well before using.)
2. Toss the radishes and tomatoes in a salad bowl with a third of the dressing. Marinate 5 to 10 minutes. Then add the greens and toss with enough of the remaining dressing to coat lightly. (You may have some dressing left over.) Season with more salt if needed.
3. Mound salad on salad plates and garnish each serving with a sprinkle of almonds and feta. Serves 6
Note: Sumac, a ground spice made from red berries, has a tangy lemon flavor. It is available in specialty groceries and on line. You can substitute fresh lemon juice to taste if you can’t find it.
Note: To toast sesame seeds, place them in a small skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring often, until they are golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes or less. Watch carefully as they can burn quickly. Remove and cool.
Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2016