As many of you may know, I love spices! I am proud of my spice collection at home. I have all the standard herbs (basil, thyme, sage, dill, tarragon, oregano and more), and some not so standard ones –herbs du province and lavender. I have a ton of spices such as cumin, coriander, chili powder, curry powder, cayenne pepper, cloves, cinnamon (all the ones that start with C.) I also have others that don’t start with C – paprika, smoked paprika, ginger. nutmeg, turmeric. I have a good seed selection – cumin seeds, mustard seed, coriander seed, celery seed. I also have some more interesting spices like garem masala, fenu greek, cardamom, and amchoor (a mango powder.) John and I now have 5 different types of salt (sea salt, coarse salt, lemon salt, Himalayan rock salt, fleur de sel) and as you can probably imagine, an unlimited selection of rubs from different places around the continent.
John and I have a wonderful spice rack he found at Bed Bath and Beyond that can hold up to 36 spices, as well as a bucket on the top shelf full of bags of spice, as well as a shelf for the rubs – and we are rapidly running out of room!
My mom’s good friend Nellie was fortunate enough to be able to visit Turkey recently. In her emails about her trip, she mentioned to me that she went to a bazaar where she purchased fresh and exotic spices. When Nellie got back from her trip, she told me that she had something for me! I was delighted to learn that this gift was a selection of fresh spices right from Turkey! My goodie bag included mint, cumin seeds, and the most fragrant cumin I have ever had the privilege of smelling. She also included a wonderful spice blend that she said the merchant had created just for her, combining 15-20 different spices. Finally, I also received some za’atar. I was particularly excited for this one. My mom and I sampled some Happy Camel pita bread at a farmer’s market a while back. It was delicious, and the vendor informed us the spiced used was a Middle Eastern spice called za’atar. It is a spice I am sure you have tasted before, as I recognized its distinct flavour, but I had never known what it was called until then. I had been searching for za’atar but it has proven to be very difficult to find. So getting some of this spice, especially of the highest Turkish quality, was very exciting.
“So what is za’atar?” You might be asking. Za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice blend, often used on or in bread. It consists of the following spices:
- 1/4 cup sumac
- 2 tablespoons thyme
- 1 tablespoon roasted sesame seeds
- 2 tablespoons marjoram
- 2 tablespoons oregano
- 1 teaspoon coarse salt
“So what is sumac?” you might be asking. Frankly, I had no idea so I decided to consult Wikipedia. After reading the first few lines of the Wikipedia page, I got bored and stopped reading. I still have no idea really.
So I wanted to find a dish for me and John to enjoy featuring my precious za’atar. I only had one shot at this, as even if I manage to find more za’atar here in Edmonton, it probably won’t be close to the quality of the Turkish blend.
This week’s recipe is Israeli Couscous and Roasted Chickpeas with Za’atar. I found the recipe on this website randomly online and thought it looked worthy. Chickpeas and carrots tossed in a lemon za’atar tahini marinade, roasted in the oven and combined with Israeli couscous, garnished with green onions. Healthy and delicious! I couldn’t stop eating the za’atar marinade before I added it to the chickpeas.
– If you have trouble finding Israeli couscous, just substitute regular couscous. This is what I did for my dish, however I would love to try it with the Israeli couscous.
– Ok, so I am aware I made a whole edition of this email around a spice that is impossible to find. In the likely event you don’t have za’atar, I would suggest substituting other strong spices such as cumin, coriander or curry powder. Now that I have discovered this tahini based marinade, I think I will experiment with other spices.
– On a note unrelated to the recipe itself, Israeli couscous is a great soup ingredient – larger than regular couscous, these little balls don’t get soggy in your soup like pasta would, especially when you let your soup sit over-night.
Ingredient I can’t live without:
A key ingredient for hummus, I always have a jar of this in my fridge. This week’s recipe also introduced me to the idea of using tahini in marinades or dressings as well. As mentioned above, I think I will be experimenting with this idea in the near future.
Spice/herb of the week:
You really have to try find some za’atar for your spice rack. Once I can get my hands on some more, I have plans to add it to hummus, pizza crusts, breads, roasted vegetables etc. The problem is that za’atar is terribly hard to find in Edmonton. My mom managed to find a store in little India that sells sumac so we could make our own blend, and sourced a spice store in Calgary called Silk Road Spices that sells za’atar – we may be relying on Steven to bring us some! Fortunately, Silk Road Spices is opening a store on Whyte Ave. in Edmonton. They are hoping to open by the end of the summer, and I am very excited and will be checking them out! Once I visit this store, you will like be getting a second spice edition in your inbox.
UPDATE: Silk Road Spiced has opened in Edmonton! Here you can find precious Za’atar. Check out their website: Silk Road Spices. They have a Calgary location as well. If you live in a different city, you’re on your own!
So for this week, I would love some feedback from you! Apart from what I mentioned above, please tell me your favourite or most interesting spice in your spice rack!
Special thanks to Nellie for the fantastic Turkish spices!
Click here to view printable Word version of recipe:
Za’atar Roasted Chickpeas with Israeli Couscous
Za’atar Roasted Chickpeas and Carrots with Israeli Couscous
1cup dry israeli couscous, or regular couscous
2 tsp olive oil
1 can chickpeas, drained
5 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 green onions, light green parts sliced thin
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 lemon, juiced
2 tsp tahini
1Tbsp za’atar – add more to taste if desired
Salt and pepper to taste
Prepare vegetables and chickpeas:
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees C
- Combine chickpeas and sliced carrots in a bowl
- Make dressing. Combine olive oil, lemon juice, za’atar, salt and pepper
- Pour half the dressing on the vegetables and toss
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread vegetables. Bake for 15-20 minutes, mixing once or twice until chickpeas reach your desired consistency.
- While vegetables are baking, prepare Israeli couscous or regular couscous. Follow cooking instructions on package.
- Remove couscous from heat, fluff with fork and let stand for about 10 minutes.
- Once vegetables are done, combine vegetables, couscous and the rest of the dressing and toss.
- Garnish with green onion and sprinkle with extra Za’atar to serve.