Thursday, November 20, 2014

Flavors from the Middle Eastern kitchen bring meals alive

Pomegranate seeds and non-fat Greek yogurt lend a Middle Eastern accent to organic Spanish brown rice with black beans, garlic cloves, organic diced tomatoes and saffron.


This onetime bread lover couldn't get enough of loaves spread with a fragrant mixture of za'atar (Arabic for "thyme") and olive oil.

Fresh bread covered with za'atar -- dried thyme, sumac, salt and sesame seeds -- was terrific, but I also loved toasting it and hearing the mixture sizzle when it got hot.

Za'atar and yogurt, filled with diced cucumbers and dusted with dried mint, are flavors I recall fondly from the Syrian cooking I enjoyed growing up in Brooklyn.

I discovered Aleppo pepper -- a simple, mildly spicy crushed red pepper that adds color and flavor -- in the Syrian groceries and restaurants in Paterson's Middle Eastern bazaar. 

I continue to enjoy those flavors today.

Now, I use za'atar to season eggs, rice, fresh tomato slices and other food, relishing the sour sumac and crunchy sesame seeds.

In an omelet stuffed with smoked wild salmon, the sourness of the za'atar contrasts nicely with the slightly salty fish.

At dinner tonight, I tried to recall the flavors of my mother's mujaddara -- a rice-and-lentil dish served with yogurt, diced cucumbers and dried mint -- using thick Greek yogurt and hothouse cucumbers from Costco Wholesale, dried mint from Fattal's in Paterson and pomegranate seeds from ShopRite.

Aleppo pepper and za'atar thyme mixture can be added in the last few minutes of cooking an egg-white omelet stuffed with reduced-fat Swiss cheese or used liberally inside and outside the omelet.

I sprinkled thyme mixture over organic Spanish brown rice before I reheated it in the microwave, and used a thick layer, such as you'd find on za'atar bread, with two organic eggs fried sunny side up.
Aleppo pepper added color and flavor to fresh wild Atlantic cod when I poached the skinless fillets in Roasted Salsa Verde from Whole Foods Market, and organic diced tomatoes and fresh lime juice, both from Costco. The fish was $7.99 a pound at Costco.

Taking a break from eggs at breakfast, I plated the last piece of leftover cod with sweet potatoes and whole garlic cloves mashed with extra-virgin olive oil and seasoned with sea salt, cinnamon, curry powder and other seasonings.

Za'atar thyme mixture, Aleppo pepper, dried mint and many other spices are available at Fattal's, 975-77 Main St., Paterson; 1-973-742-7125.

Fattal's is open 7 days a week and has a large parking lot.

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