A recipe for Za’atar and some ways of using it

Za'atarI’ve been having fun with my meal plan – turning dreams into reality….well at least, giving form to ideas and trying to make our meals both visually appealing and tasty. I find it really helps to have a plan to work to, even if I adjust my ideas a little as I go along.

For Tuesday lunch, the plan said ‘raw vegetable salad’ for lunch. A lot of possible interpretations of that. So I decided to go for a colour theme, which was Red, White and Green. Red and Green Salad Red Cabbage, with Oak Leaf Lettuce, Rocket and two kinds of Radishes – red and black made up my first salad. The little slivers of black radish, which is pure white inside, could be replaced with celeriac or turnip. This was dressed with my usual vinaigrette based on walnut and balsamic vinegars and olive oil.
Winter Salad The second one is what my mother would have called ‘Winter Salad’ – cooked beetroot, apple and celery. I topped it with the last of the Tsatsiki and sprinkled it with Za’atar. I must make some more of that, it has been useful in so many different dishes!  More on that in a moment.

For Braised Fennel with Chilli and Garlicdinner, I followed an idea from Mimi Spencer’s book “the fast diet recipe book“, rubbing crushed fennel seeds into some pork, which is sealed over a high heat, and then set aside. In the juices (or in a little olive oil if you aren’t using meat), gently sauté some chopped garlic and red chilli. Add 200ml of stock, some grated lemon zest, seasoning and a little lemon juice and pour over quartered fennel bulbs in a baking dish. Top with the pork and bake in a hot oven for 15 to 20 minutes, covering with foil for the latter part of the cooking to keep the meat moist. I can imagine working this in several different ways, with tofu or fish, perhaps using capers and/or fresh herbs.

Filo CupFor dessert, I made filo cups – just one sheet of filo is enough to make two cups. Cut the sheet into quarters, brush lightly with melted butter, and lay two pieces on top of each other at angles and press into a ramekin. I used another smaller ramekin inside to help hold the shape, but I think it could work without.

Bake for about 8 minutes, until they start to turn golden, then remove and allow to cool. Plum and Ginger Filo BasketsI filled them with a spoonful of lemon curd and topped it with (defrosted) rasperries, but this is another idea which can take so many different fillings, such as poached plums with ginger, see left  (as in 5:2 Healthy Eating for Life).
I think especially when you are having a low carb meal, having something that is light and crispy can make a big difference to enjoyment. Only 41 calories and 8g of carbs for the pastry, plus another perhaps 20 calories for the butter. Fill it with thick greek yogurt and fresh berries for a delectable low calorie treat.

Za'atarI have come across a lot of recipes calling for the use of Za’atar, but it was impossible to find locally. What surprised me was that despite it being frequently mentioned in books, none of the ones on my shelf had a recipe for it. Thanks to Google, I discovered that it only has 4 or 5 ingredients, so I resolved to make my own.

I found the Sumac in Cahors at Les Cafes Lebert, where they have a fabulous selection of world foods. The oregano came back with me from Greece and the thyme was a gift gathered by a friend who visited Provence. I do tend to look out for freshly dried herbs, if you know what I mean, rather than those rather dusty looking ones in little jars.

And here is my recipe for Za’atar

  • 1 tbsp roasted sesame seeds
  • ½ tsp Maldon salt 
  • 1 to 2 tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp wild thyme
  • 1 tsp sumac

Grind all together and store in an airtight jar.

You will find lots of recipes that use Za’atar, particularly those by Ottolenghi. I love his baked aubergine recipe, which I top with greek yogurt and za’atar and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds.

Aubergine with Yogurt and Pomegranate

I love it sprinkled on flatbread before baking (also works well to dip bread into, along with olive oil and balsamic vinegar), but also over dips and roasted vegetables. It reminds me of gomasio, the Japanese / macrobiotic condiment of crushed sesame seeds and salt; but the herbs, especially the lemony bitterness of the sumac, add another dimension and make it a versatile and more-ish choice for livening up simple vegetables.

12 Super Soups – for fast days or any day

Italian Vegetable Soup Spicy Chickpea and Spinach Soup _MG_5269-2 Tuscan Zucchini Soup Mushroom and Celery Soup Spring Minestrone Soup Hot and Sour Chicken and Mushroom Soup Watercress Soup Carrot and Coriander Soup butternut squash soup _MG_3080 Simple Vegetable Soup

I love soups! They are a great way of filling up before your main course, or make a perfect lunch. They can showcase all kinds of vegetables and elevate them to become star ingredients. They are a great way of increasing your veg intake, so helping you to have more fibre and get your five-a-day.

I make my own stock quite often, but if not, a good quality bouillon powder or cube is perfectly acceptable – especially on a fast day, the extra salt can be very helpful at balancing your electrolytes, so keeping headaches and light-headedness at bay.

Most of these soups are easy to prepare and quick to cook and can be simmering gently while you get on with making a main dish. I often make a larger quantity than I need and freeze leftovers for another day.

Vary your textures, from a clear broth such as in Hot and Sour Soup, to a hearty chunky soup such as the Spicy Chickpea and Spinach, with a variety of smoother textures in between. A stick blender is a really useful but inexpensive tool that helps to make smooth soups easily, right in the pan, without extra washing up.

Make the most of herbs and spices to add flavour and depth – a little sprinkle at the last minute is appealing to the eye as well as to the palate. Try a grating of strongly flavoured cheese, such as parmesan, a spoonful of pesto, a few toasted slivers of almonds, a swirl of yogurt, finely chopped fresh herbs, some drops of chilli sauce or some freshly roasted and ground spices.

Here they are, in order of calorie counts and with links to the recipes.

12 Super SoupsPhotosNumber of Calories
Click on the links above for the recipes
Mushroom and CeleryMushroom and Celery Soup36
WatercressWatercress Soup60
Hot and Sour (Tom Yum)Hot and Sour Chicken and Mushroom Soup76
Moroccan Cauliflower with AlmondMoroccan Cauliflower Soup87
Tuscan ZucchiniTuscan Zucchini Soup89
Carrot and CorianderCarrot and Coriander Soup97
Bargeman's Tomato_MG_5269-2110
Caribbean Butternut Squashbutternut squash soup120
Italian VegetableItalian Vegetable Soup124
Spicy Chickpea and SpinachSpicy Chickpea and Spinach Soup150
Spring MinestroneSpring Minestrone150

All the recipes are in my book 5:2 Healthy Eating for Life, available on Amazon in kindle and print editions