California Za’atar Roasted Chickpeas
It’s likely that the first time I ate Za’atar spices was in Southern California, as I don’t see them on menus around here often and sadly, had trouble finding them in the grocery stores at home. I only started going to Southern California about 2 years ago and I was pleasantly surprised to find that they not only eat real food (idk why I thought they only worked out and shopped), they actually have AMAZING restaurants. More on that later; first, what is Za’atar?
Za’atar is a generic name for a family of related Middle Eastern herbs, namely oregano, thyme and savory. It is also the name for a condiment made from the dried herbs, mixed with sesame seeds, dried sumac, and often salt or other spices, and used in Middle Eastern cuisine. The condiment is what we are talking about here, and below are all the ingredients for this recipe.
On our first trip to LA, my son and I fell head over heels in love with a restaurant in Venice, called Gjelina. That’s most likely where I had the first taste of these spices, on some heavenly, wood-fired oven roasted vegetables or perhaps, shrimp. The food at Gjelina is out of this world and henceforth it will ALWAYS be on my short list of restaurants I must visit when in LA. My sweet son sent me their cookbook after he moved to LA, and inside of it I found their recipe for California Za’atar. Do not be deterred by the exotic name or that damned apostrophe. Do you like thyme, oregano, and sesame seeds? Yes? Then you will love Za’atar. Just make it.
I LOVE to read and look at restaurant cookbooks, but I don’t often cook from them. Sometimes they are filled with labor-intensive recipes (and recipes within recipes) which don’t fit in with my ultimate desire to find a minimal effort recipe that will feed me and my family a couple of times, and is variable so that we aren’t bored with it 3rd time around. You know what I’m saying?
I know you do. Today, I made Za’atar roasted chickpeas because they are delicious as a snack on their own, in salads or with eggs, my weekday staples. The possibilities are endless and luckily, the recipe makes enough that we can use it all week long to jazz up any raw, fried, grilled, or roasted thing that I decide to put on the table. Don’t even get me started on how delicious this is as a dip for bread, or it is likely that I will leave this keyboard and…oh no, I’m already losing focus.
It takes about 5 minutes to throw this recipe together. You can toast the sesame seeds while grating the lemon zest and garlic then just throw it all together with olive oil and the rest of the dried spices and it’s ready to add layers of rich flavor to any simple thing you make. A microplane grater is perfect for prepping the lemon and garlic in about 30 seconds. They are cheap and invaluable, I have no idea why it took me so long to get one. Here is a link to the one I use. Another note: if you can’t find ground sumac, which has a tangy lemony flavor, you can pick some up online here, or just use more lemon zest.
It’s really hard to not just eat these roasted chickpeas right off the pan when you pull them out of the oven, so do yourself a favor and make more than you think you’ll need right off the bat. They save in the refrigerator for days; in my opinion, I cannot have too many of these on hand. I use canned chickpeas to make these because I’m spicing them up anyway, so I don’t mind the additional salty flavor of them, plus it’s easy.
Here are some of the ways I like to eat the chickpeas for lunch, dinner or a snack. Above left, with tomato and feta cheese, fresh oregano and tehina sauce. (See Basic Tehina Sauce Recipe in the hummus post) Or on the right, as a part of a “clean out the fridge” lunch bowl, with grilled chicken, radish, green beans, tomatoes, carrots, avocado, red kraut, and tehina sauce.
I could eat a bowl of these on their own as a snack. Or, for a savory breakfast, below, with sweet potato “toast”, thick yogurt, an olive oil fried egg, with roasted chick peas on the side and some black sesame seeds and parsley. That is like heaven on a plate to me.
Here’s what you need to make this recipe, above right. I buy spices in bulk at the farmers market (or at Weaver’s Market if you are local) because they are so much cheaper. If you’d like to pick up the Gjelina: Cooking from Venice California cookbook, you can find it online here. If you like to “try before you buy”, here is the recipe for California Za’atar:
- 1/4 cup sesame seeds
- 1 garlic clove
- 1/4 cup dried thyme
- 1/4 cup dried oregano
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- 2 tsp ground sumac (optional)
- 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4-3/4 tsp kosher salt
- Canned garbanzo beans (chick-peas), rinsed and well-drained
- Toast the sesame seeds in a small dry frying pan over medium heat, until fragrant and beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Set aside and let cool.
- Grate the garlic and lemon zest with a Microplane grater. Place in a small bowl and add the thyme, oregano, toasted sesame seeds, sumac (if using) and olive oil. Stir to combine.
- Season with salt, 1/4 tsp at a time, until desired taste.
- Place the chick-peas in a bowl and toss with a couple tablespoons of the Za'atar mixture. Spread on a baking sheet and roast in the oven at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, until lightly browned and crisp.
- Store remaining Za'atar in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for about 1 week.