Middle Eastern cuisine is quite fascinating - familar too, considering it uses many spices and ingredients common to Indian cuisine. My first brush with Lebanese cuisine was in a restaurant in Chennai called Cedars (Is it still around?). I remember some really nice hummus, pita bread and baba ghanoush from my meals there.
Delhi has definitely more choice when it comes to world cuisine and almost within a week of landing here - while staying in the guest house waiting for our stuff to reach - we went to this restaurant called "Its Greek to me". While there were some Greek dishes, we found a lot of Middle Eastern items on the menu - I guess Greek dishes which would suit the Indian palate were too limited and they needed some more variety! We found it a little overpriced since the portions weren't large enough - or maybe at that point we weren't used to Delhi prices for eating out!
In the meantime, I have cooked some meals with Middle Eastern influences - courtesy the blogging world making everything seem so easy! It has also become much easier to get the ingredients needed to make these dishes - tahini? check! couscous? check! pita bread? check!
Which brings me to the latest ingredient my friend H found at the Dastkaar Mela while we were there one lovely winter afternoon last December. Za'atar - this is a spice mixture unique to Lebanese cuisine and is made from a mix of roasted sesame seeds, sumac (ground dried berries) and thyme. I even have a recipe for it tucked away in my book, but never got around to doing it because there seemed to be no good substitute for sumac.
Once I got the za'atar the next thing was to find a suitable recipe to use it -easier said than done. Finally one weekend, when hubby suggested having baked chicken I decided to keep it really simple. Instead of an elaborate sauce with 10 ingredients, I used just this one spice mix. Chicken breast-on-the-bone, a rub of a tablespoon of za'atar along with some red chilli flakes and olive oil, baked for 30 minutes - a lovely, light meal.
It had this really nice smoky taste - quite unlike the usual pepper/cumin/ coriander we are used to. Some salad on the side and you have a well rounded meal - especially for people who want to cut down on carbs.
Baked Chicken with Za'atar
One Breast of chicken (I used bone-in but you can use boneless)
Marinade - 2 tbsp lime juice and salt
1 tbsp za'atar spice mix
1 tsp red chilli flakes
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and freshly crushed black pepper
1. Make cuts in the chicken and marinate with the lemon juice and salt for atleast one hour.
2. Mix the za'atar powder, red chilli flakes, salt, pepper and oil and then rub into the chicken.
3. Pre heat the oven to 180C and bake the chicken in an oven proof bowl for 35 -40 minutes till the chicken is completely cooked.
4. Serve with a salad on the side.