Chickpeas, bulgur, dressing and za'atar, oh my!
Middle Eastern chickpea salad with homemade za’atar, lemon-tahini-mint dressing and tangy bulgur with sumac is a refreshing and satisfying salad meal.
Za'atar makes it Middle Eastern Chickpea salad
What is za’atar?
For our consideration, za’atar (zah-tar) is a simple spice blend of toasted cumin, thyme, marjoram, sumac, toasted sesame seeds a bit of salt and ground black pepper. Google translate actually Za’atar in Arabic means thyme so I suppose it’s a good thing we’ll be adding that.
How do I make za’atar?
Za’atar is super simple to make. Essentially, you’ll just mix all the spices together. I usually add it all in a jar or container that I can seal and then give it a good shake to mix it all up. Start with the amounts of each spice I recommend and then adjust if you like. I go easy on the salt because I know I can always add that later. This is particularly important is you’re going to be adding dressings or other ingredients to recipes, like vegetable broth, that might contain added salt.
Salt – always forward, never back
The tricky thing about salt, you can always add it, but if you get something too salty, you can’t really fix it. It’s the first thing I learned about cooking. You want to add salt just a bit at a time, throughout the cooking process. Your salt hounds can always have a shaker on the table.
How to toast sesame seeds
To toast the sesame seeds, just heat a skillet and add them. It’s easy for them to get away from you in a hot pan, so be sure that you stir them constantly. Remove them from the pan immediately, otherwise, they may continue browning (burning) when your back is turned, tricky little things that they are. You can also cut the heat about halfway through the process, but reserve this for a pan you know well, so you can anticipate how long it will hold the heat. The entire process takes less than 3 minutes to get them to a nice brown.
what is sumac?
Sumac is a dried spice used in a lot of Middle Eastern recipes. It has a delightful sour, lemony taste combined with earthiness. It’s great for salads, like my favorite Fattoush salad which combines it with pomegranate. It enhances the flavor of the rest of the spices in our za’atar blend and is particularly nice with the cumin.
What do I do with that leftover za’atar spice blend?
Chances are, you’ll finish this recipe with more za’atar than you need. No worries. Just store it in a small container with a lid (or even in a baggie) and put in the cupboard with the rest of your spices. Learn from my experience – label it so you know.
What else can I use za’atar for?
In addition to spicing up our chickpeas, za’atar is a great addition for roasted vegetables and grains such as rice. You can also add it to simmering red lentils and sweet potatoes to create an unusual Middle Eastern dal. Once you’ve tried it, I’m sure you’ll think of a lot of great uses for it. For today though, we’ll stick to the chickpeas.
Let’s make Middle Eastern Chickpea Salad
Ok, we’ve made our special za’atar spice blend and now, onward to our salad. It’s super easy and there are no really hard and fast rules to it.
Make the bulgur first
Once you have the spices sorted, everything else can happen while the bulgur cooks and rests. I am a huge fan of bulgur because it has such a lovely, nutty taste and it cooks up quickly – like 15 minutes. If it gets done before you’re ready, just let it sit with the lid on and it will get a bit fluffier and stay warm.
In making this salad, I decided to serve the bulgur alongside the chickpeas rather than mix them together. Let the eaters accomplish that task. For that reason, I jazzed up the bulgur by adding sumac and cumin along with a bit of lemon juice.
Make the dressing next
I seriously love the mixture of tahini, garlic, and lemon or lime as a dressing base. I use variations of that theme with buffalo chickpea bowls. It accompanies the Middle Easter chickpea salad with my usual tahini, garlic, lemon, and a bit of water to thin it, and this time, I added mint.
Chickpeas with za'atar
Plan it out
Once you have the za’atar mixed, preparing the chickpeas is straightforward, but let’s make a bit of a pit stop first by gathering all our remaining salad ingredients. This ensures that the chickpeas will be hot when you serve up the salad. I lined 4 plates with a few cups of lettuce leaves and then had halved cherry tomatoes and avocado slices at the ready. You might opt for additional ingredients here such as sliced radishes, cucumber or carrots.
Now, about those chickpeas
Dice up a small red pepper and red onion, open two cans or chickpeas, rinse and drain them and off you go. It might sound counter-intuitive but start by roasting the chickpeas in a dry skillet before adding the red pepper, onion, tomato paste and za’atar. This allows the chickpeas to brown up. Be prepared if you’ve not done this before, the chickpeas will sound off with enthusiasm.
Last step – put it together
Bulgur cooked? Check. Dressing? Check. Salad plates at the ready? Check. Once your chickpeas are done, just assemble everything on the plates. I served the dressing alongside so that folks could add what they wanted and tossed a bit of chopped mint over the top of the salad for good measure. Yummy!
After we finished our lovely lunch of Middle Eastern chickpea salad, I placed my little jar of unused za’atar in the back of the cupboard – right next to the Berbere spice blend I use for easy Ethiopian stew, which was right next 2 other spice blends I’d created, used once and forgotten about. Not only did I not remember how old they were, but in one case, I wasn’t entirely sure what it was. It got me thinking about the concept of ‘saving for later’. Sometimes life gets in the way of the best laid plans and our good intentions, but sometimes it just comes down to putting our plans (or spice blends) in front, so they get the importance they deserve. Peace.Print