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Middle Eastern food is delicious and tastes exotic with all those complex spice combinations, plus it's really healthy. (OK, I know falafel is fried, but at least it's vegetarian which somehow makes it healthy anyway.) Most people are familiar with pita bread and hummus, but the recipes in this post are an opportunity to broaden your horizons a little more and impress your friends by making your own chips, hummus, and condiments.
There are four different recipes: lavash chips, za'atar, hummus and green harissa. You can make each alone or all in combination. I'll talk a little about each in turn.
Lavash is a soft, thin Middle Eastern flatbread. Lucky for us, you can find packaged lavash in the deli aisle of most grocery stores.
This particular lavash is marketed primarily as a sandwich wrap, but it makes the best chips ever. Thin and crisp, they're perfect sprinkled with any type of seasoning and served with any type of dip. They have just 3 calories per chip and are good for you with flax, oat bran and whole wheat.
Next is za'atar (zah-tahr), which is a very common Middle Eastern spice blend typically served with olive oil as a dipping sauce for soft pita or naan bread. There are numerous variations of za'atar in different regions of the Middle East and families often have their own blend, but it typically includes several herbs mixed with toasted sesame seeds and salt. In addition to using it in a dipping sauce, za'atar would be excellent sprinkled on roast chicken or anything grilled. Stored in a tightly covered container, leftover spice mix will keep for at least a month or two. You can occasionally find a za'atar spice blend in a world market, but making your own allows you to customize and it's fresher.
You'll need several spices to make za'atar, the most unusual of which is sumac. Since sumac is important to the flavor I urge you not to skip it. You could either make an adventure out of finding your local Middle Eastern market (one of my favorite things is checking out ethnic markets) or you could buy it and every other spice you need at your local Penzeys store. If you don't live near a Penzeys store, you can buy spices here.
The third recipe is for hummus. Why make hummus when it's easier to peel the plastic off a tub from the store? Freshness, the ability to customize, cost, curiosity, and pride. It's easy with a food processor. In addition to using hummus as a dip, it makes a great sandwich spread or breakfast spread on an English Muffin.
The final recipe is for green harissa. You may be familiar with red harissa, a fiery hot condiment that's very trendy right now, but green harissa is entirely different. Bright with fresh herbs, cumin and lemon, green harissa has big flavor but is not hot despite the addition of two jalapenos. You can certainly make it hotter by leaving in the seeds or adding more jalapeno if you want.
The main herbs in the harissa recipe are flat-leaf parsley and cilantro. If you're one of those people who dislike cilantro you can substitute fresh spinach instead. Although it's often served with couscous, I thought of using it on salmon, chicken, or lamb as a sauce when I first tasted it. We had the leftover sauce on grilled salmon the next night and it was great. It's kind of like a Middle Eastern version of pesto.
So, here's the way I put them all together. First, I made lavash chips and sprinkled them with za'atar prior to baking. The only hard part is figuring out how to cut the rectangular lavash into 32 triangular chips. First you brush the lavash with olive oil and sprinkle with za'atar.
Next, you cut the lavash in half vertically, then cut each half vertically again to form four long strips. Stack the strips, then cut them in half horizontally. Cut each stack in half horizontally again so you have four stacks. Finally, cut each stack diagonally to form 32 triangular chips.
These recipes would be great as an appetizer for your next get-together, football game, or book club meeting. They're much more sophisticated than plain old chips and dip. "What's that?", people will say. "Oh", you'll reply airily, "Just some harissa, hummus and lavash chips with za'atar that I made this morning." They'll look at you with that impressed look.
Makes 64 chips
Two 9-by-12-inch whole wheat lavash breads
2 tablespoons olive oil
Za’atar spice blend (below), grated Parmesan, or other spice blend of your choice
Place an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350d. Brush the breads with olive oil and sprinkle with the seasoning of your choice. With the long side nearest you, cut each bread in half vertically and then cut each half vertically again to make 4 rectangular strips. Stack the strips on top of each other, then cut the stack in half horizontally. Cut each stack in half horizontally again to make four square-ish stacks. Cut each stack in half diagonally to make 32 triangular chips. Place the chips on two baking sheets in a single layer and bake until light golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool.
Note: Za’atar spice blend is traditionally served with olive oil as a dipping sauce for pita or naan bread; it’s also excellent on grilled or roasted meats, on lavash chips, or sprinkled on hummus.
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds 1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons ground sumac ½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried thyme 1 teaspoon coarse black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
Combine all ingredients well, rubbing the dried thyme and oregano between your fingers as you add them.
Makes approximately 2 cups
One 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed ½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup fresh lemon juice, about 1 large lemon ½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ cup tahini 2 to 3 tablespoons water
1 small garlic clove, minced Paprika for garnish
2 tablespoons olive oil
Combine the tahini and lemon juice in a food processor and process for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl then process 30 additional seconds to help whip the tahini. Add the olive oil, garlic, cumin and salt and process for 30 seconds. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl and process for another 30 seconds. Add half of the chickpeas to the processor and process for 1 minute. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, add the remaining chickpeas and process for 1 minute until thick and smooth. Most likely the hummus will be too thick at this point. With the food processor running, slowly add 2 to 3 tablespoons of water until it reaches your desired consistency. Garnish with a few dashes of paprika and some additional olive oil (if desired) when served.
Makes approximately 1 ½ cups
Note: Green harissa is excellent as a condiment with chicken, lamb, salmon, grilled vegetables, hummus, pita, or couscous.
2 tablespoons cumin seeds ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon coriander seeds ½ cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 jalapenos, seeded and sliced ½ cup fresh cilantro leaves
2 green onions, sliced ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 small garlic clove, smashed ½ teaspoon salt
Lightly toast cumin and coriander seeds in a small skillet over medium heat, stirring often until fragrant, 2-3 minutes; let cool. Puree the seeds with all the remaining ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth.
Harissa can be made a day or two ahead. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the harissa to prevent browning. Cover and chill.