Tomato-Bread Salad with Za'atar Vinaigrette
A Middle Eastern spice blend with ancient roots.
By Adeena Sussman
Za'atar, a spice blend popular throughout the Middle East, is ideally a blend of hyssop, sumac, sesame seeds, salt, and other seasonings. Jewish food historian and cookbook author Gil Marks notes that hyssop appears frequently in the Bible, playing an especially prominent role in the Passover story, where Jews were instructed to add hyssop to the blood they smeared on their doorposts. Sumac, the dried and ground red berry that lends za'atar its distinct tanginess, is referenced in the Talmud as a cultivated spice.
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These days za'atar blends made in Israel often do not contain hyssop, since it is a protected agricultural species there. Instead, oregano and thyme serve as stand-ins. Za'atar is delicious lavished on warm bread dipped in olive oil, in marinades for meat and poultry, and sprinkled on labaneh (tangy thickened yogurt) and hummus. Here, it lends a distinct accent to this tomato-bread salad--a perfect use for day-old or frozen pita. Serve this salad as a side dish, or make it into a main course with the addition of feta cheese for a dairy meal or grilled chicken breasts for meat. Za'atar is available under kosher supervision from igourmet.com and Pereg Gourmet Spices, or at your local kosher market.
2 whole pita breads, cut into 8 triangles
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice
4 teaspoons za'atar, plus more for garnishing
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 large tomatoes (about 1 lb), seeded and chopped
2 scallions, greens and whites included, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Preheat oven to 350°F. Place pita triangles on a cookie sheet and toast for 12 minutes, until pitas are dry and fragrant. Remove from oven, cool, and reserve.
To make vinaigrette, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, za'atar, garlic, salt, and pepper. In a large bowl combine toasted pita, tomatoes, scallions, parsley, and vinaigrette. Divide salad among 4 bowls and sprinkle with additional za'atar.
Adeena Sussman is a food writer and chef based in New York. She writes the bimonthly food column Season to Taste for Hadassah magazine, and her work appears regularly on Epicurious.com, and in publications including Gourmet, Time Out New York, The Forward, the San Jose Mercury News, and Sunset magazine.