In this kitchen, when it comes to roasting vegetables, a hefty dash of za'atar is the key. This Middle Eastern spice mix of dried thyme, oregano, marjoram, sumac, toasted sesame seeds and salt dates back to the Middle Ages. It's a surefire blend that improves just about anything I roast, toast, simmer and stew.
While you can purchase premade za'atar spice blends, you can easily make your own at home. You'll be amazed at how such a simple mixture can pack such bold flavors. The benefit of making za'atar yourself is that you can experiment with the ratio of the different individual spices until you find your perfect "house" mix.
Once you have one or two blends you like, use them to rub onto chicken, pork, lamb and beef; sprinkle on pita bread; whisk into a dip; stir into rice; toss with pasta; and to perk up salad dressings and sauces. The seasoning is especially good with the local root vegetables in co-ops right now. Roasting enhances the natural sweetness of the vegetables while the spice balances those flavors with a savory tang.
For an appetizer or light entree, dust carrots with za'atar and roast until they become crusty and caramelized, then finish with a splash of vinegar or lime and serve on a generous layer of hummus. The carrots may be prepared a day ahead of time, held in the refrigerator, then refreshed in a hot oven. This also works nicely with parsnips, turnips and sweet potatoes.
Preheating the baking sheet in the oven will help to brown and crisp the veggies as well as speeding up the cooking time. These are great over homemade hummus, but a quality packaged hummus works wonderfully, too.
Za'atar Spice Blend
Makes about 1 cup.
From Beth Dooley.
• 2 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
• 1/2 c. ground sumac
• 1/4 c. dried thyme
• 1/4 c. dried marjoram
• 1/4 c. dried oregano
• 2 tsp. coarse salt
In a small bowl, stir together all the ingredients. Transfer to an airtight jar for up to 6 months.
Serves 4 to 6.
Try this with parsnips, turnips, sweet potatoes, rutabagas or a mix of these root veggies. Serve over hummus or cooked rice. Preheating the sheet pan in the oven helps to caramelize and crisp up the carrots. From Beth Dooley.
• 1/4 c. olive oil
• 2 tbsp. za'atar (see recipe)
• 2 lb. carrots, scrubbed and cut lengthwise into sticks, about 2 in. wide
• 1 c. hummus or more, for serving (see recipe)
• 1 tbsp. lime juice, or more to taste
Place a baking sheet into the oven and preheat to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, stir together the oil and za'atar. Add the carrots and toss to coat. Transfer the carrots to the hot baking sheet and arrange in an even layer. Drizzle any leftover oil over the carrots. Roast until the carrots are tender and browned all over, about 20 to 25 minutes, stirring about halfway through.
To serve, spread the hummus onto a platter or individual plates. Arrange the roasted carrots over the hummus. Drizzle with the lime juice, to taste.
Makes a generous 1 1/2 cups.
From Beth Dooley.
• 2 c. chickpeas, drained
• 1/2 c. tahini
• 1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 cloves garlic, smashed
• 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice, to taste
• 1 tbsp. ground cumin, to taste
Transfer all of the ingredients to a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse until the ingredients reach the desired smooth consistency, scraping down the sides. Transfer to a covered container and store in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.
Beth Dooley is the author of "The Perennial Kitchen." Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.