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Friday, 7 October 2016

Foodie Fridays: Autumnal Za'atar 'Salad'

It's certainly true that "the night's are drawin' in" as we say here, which means an obvious urge to eat masses of stodgy comfort food. However, much like another beer seeming like a good idea, despite the immediate short-term pleasure of cheese, pasta, chips it does very little for your mood or energy levels. So, in an attempt to keep JJ and I still active in these colder nights, I semi-improvised a hot salad dish. Shown here in it's first incarnation. I've already got ideas for a second attempt and would love to hear from anyone that makes it themselves and whatever they add/remove/change.

A note on 'chef' ingredients. I know it can be frustrating reading through a recipe and finding an ingredient that you've never heard of and that seems only to be included just to show how innovative the recipe writer is. So, for those who don't know about Za'atar I apologise, I know it's annoying, but you need to introduce Za'atar into your cooking. In this recipe it heightens the various flavours and binds them all together, like every good spice mix or herb blend should do.

Za'atar is the name of the herb as well as the mix itself. It is a species of wild thyme with an especially long history in the middle-east, being a staple ingredient in Arab, Israeli and North African cooking. The mix varies by locality, but is normally a combination of ground dried herbs, sesame seeds, salt and olive oil. My shop bought Za'atar mix comprises of: sesame seeds, sumac, thyme, salt, basil and sunflower oil, which is fairly basic and traditional, but could also include: oregano, marjoram, savory (satureja),  ground cumin, or caraway seeds.

If you can't find anywhere selling Za'atar mix near you, it's not too hard to get some of the ingredients and grind them up yourself.

Serves 2
1/2 Butternut Squash, peeled and cut into chunks
1/2 Green and Red Bell Peppers, deseeded and cut into chunks
2 Carrots, grated
1/2 tin of Chickpeas
1/2 bag of Rocket
2 Spring Onions, sliced
1/3 Cucumber, cut into half moons
1 Avocado
1 Lime, juiced
Mixed seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, sesame)
Chilli Flakes, pinch (optional)
Honey, spoonful (optional)
Za'atar, BIG pinch (NOT optional)

1 cup of Brown Rice (replace with Pearl Barley if preferred)


1. Preheat oven to 200c
2. Add cubed squash to an oven tray, cover with a little oil and one pinch of the za'atar (and the chilli flakes if using), mix and place in the oven for 15 minutes. Start preparing the brown rice, give it a wash, add to a covered pan and add three times the amount of water to rice, i.e. 3 cups of water for my recipe. Put it on boil.

3. After 15 minutes add the chopped peppers, mix and roast for about 30 additional minutes, or whenever they are all softened and slightly charred. Also, once the rice starts boiling turn it right down to a low simmer. The brown rice takes a little over 30 minutes too.

4. Prep all the rest of the ingredients (except the avocado) ready for 'construction' of the salad.
5. Once the roasting veg and the rice are done you're ready to build! (While the veg is hot out of the oven, mix the honey through, if you like it especially sweet!)

6. It's a matter of taste, but I keep the rice separate and build the salad in this order: Rocket-Carrot-Chickpeas-Cucumber. You could mix it all up rather than layering (it's a habit of mine). Scatter the roast veg over the top.
7. Half, de-seed, and slice the avocado. Sprinkle lime juice and seeds over this. Top with sliced spring onions and possibly more za'atar.
8. Done! 

Possible additions: Yoghurt-based dressing with tahini? Toasted pittas breads with olive oil and za'atar dip? It could probably do with some sort of dressing, chilli olive oil?

P.S. If I'd have thought of it sooner, I would have thought of a punning name for the recipe between the 'herbs' of the za'atar and the German word for autumn...

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