A few weeks ago some friends and I threw a baby shower lunch for a wonderful mom-to-be. We put out a delicious spread, including some hummus that I quickly jazzed up with a sprinkling of za’atar. I couldn’t believe how many people actually made a point of asking me what it was or why the hummus tasted so good! Multiple people commented on how delicious it was and hardly any of them had heard of my incredibly handy ‘secret ingredient’.
If you haven’t tried za’atar, take a look for it next time you’re in a spice shop or specialty food store. It’s a blend of herbs including oregano & thyme mixed with sesame seeds, sumac and salt. It’s often used in Middle Eastern cooking and it’s a truly divine spice mix to add to your spice collection.
One of my favorite ways to eat it is just simply sprinkled onto lightly olive-oiled pita bread, warmed and toasted in a toaster oven. It makes a great accompaniment to salad.
But an idea came to me that builds on that idea and brings the za’atar and bread right into the salad itself. Enter homemade za’atar croutons.
I never think to make croutons myself and I don’t particularly like store-bought ones, but after proving to myself how easy and painless it is to make them at home, I have a feeling I’ll be adding them to my repertoire. It was so easy and they tasted so good without being too buttery or overloaded with oil and grease.
I didn’t really know how this salad was going to turn out, but the flavors of tahini and lemon were no-brainers when I was dreaming up what would blend well with my za’atar croutons.
Putting this whole salad together took very little time, effort and amount of ingredients. I made it as a side dish to accompany fish, but I think it would make a killer main dish salad with the addition of baked falafel balls or grilled chicken.
The dressing is so creamy and rich and the croutons are so decadent and flavorful, that upon taking the first bite, I immediately thought “Middle-Eastern Caesar!” In reality, it has nothing to do with a true Caesar salad, but it’s reminiscent of one in it’s own special, spiced-up way.
Middle Eastern “Caesar” Salad
1 big Tbsp tahini
Juice of half a lemon
Onion powder to taste
Cumin to taste
Good quality bread (fresh or day-old), cubed
In a bowl, toss bread cubes with a few drizzles of olive oil and a little bit of sea salt. Add about a teaspoon of za’atar (or to taste) and toss to coat.
Heat a frying pan on medium heat and add in the bread cubes. Toast for approximately 10 minutes, constantly turning the pieces of bread until all sides are nice and golden.
Remove from heat and set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk the tahini with the lemon juice. It will firm up quite a bit. Add in small amounts of hot water, a little bit at a time, until you get a nice smooth consistency. Drizzle in a little bit of olive oil and mix. Add some onion powder, cumin and a little bit of sea salt. Whisk everything together and set aside.
In a large serving bowl, add the arugula and cucumber. Dress it with the tahini dressing and toss well. Add in the za’atar croutons and give it one final toss before serving.