Yes, this takes some time, but trust me, it’s worth every minute you put into it! It’s the antithesis of ‘fast’ food~~ ‘slow’ food to perfection!
One of the most ethereal things about Middle Eastern cooking is the combination of spices used in dishes or simply sprinkled on flatbread. On a trip to Israel as a guest of Taste of Israel, I indulged in some of the most amazing food in the world. Of course, prior to going I’d been experimenting with Middle Easter cuisine and spices for about a year, so the names, tastes, and aromas weren’t totally foreign to me. However, in the Mahche Yehuda Market in Jerusalem where I purchased ‘Za’atar’ as well as other spices and spice combinations, I for the first time in my life smelled what spices should probably smell like! The intensity, The aroma. The color. The taste! Beyond imagination!
Za’atar is a very versatile spice combination that’s oftentimes used as a tabletop spice condiment to sprinkle on whatever~~kind of like salt and pepper. It’s comprised typically of Sumac, toasted sesame seeds, salt, cumin, Mediterranean thyme, Greek oregano and marjoram; however, like curry, there are variations of ingredients. Serious Eats has a simple explanation that I shall quote here~~I mean why re-invent the wheel!
“Za’atar the spice blend is a mixture of dried herbs, sesame seeds, and sumac, and often salt, a centuries-old mixture dating back to the 13th century, at least. What those herbs are and how all those ingredients are proportioned vary from culture to culture and family to family. In much of the Middle East, za’atar recipes are closely guarded secrets, and there are also substantial regional variations. In Jordan, the za’atar is particularly heavy on the sumac, so it looks red. Lebanese za’atar may have dried orange zest; Israeli za’atar (adopted from Arab communities much like the American adoption of salsa) often includes dried dill. Unsurprisingly, these variations are a matter of extreme national pride.”There are some standards: the most common herbs are thyme and oregano, and they make up the bulk of the blend. Marjoram, mint, sage, or savory are also common.”
Preheat oven to 325 (for cooking beef)
What you need & What you do:
1/2 cup dried green lentils
3 tbl extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp sea salt
3 cups of water (divided)
Put the lentils, olive oil, salt, and half of the water in a heavy pot with a lid. Cook on medium high heat about 45 minutes adding water as necessary. When the lentils are almost done and water is absorbed, remove, and set aside. Keep covered.
3 bell peppers tri-colors, roasted (see below)
Roast these peppers on an open gas flame on the stove or in the oven at 450 degrees. When charred (to your liking), remove, put in a bowl and cover with a dish to sweat out. When cooled, clean out seeds, peel off the black charring (as much as you like) and cut into bite-sized chunks.
3 lb. chuck roast, cut into 4-6 smaller pieces
2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup red wine
Bouquet of fresh thyme, oregano and mint (tied with cooking string)
3 tsp. za’atar (Make my recipe for Za’atar.)
2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. red chili flakes
Coat the chuck roast with salt and flour and cut into 4-6 smaller pieces. Heat (medium high) the olive oil in a large heavy skillet (with a lid), add the meat pieces and sear. Reduce heat to low, add the wine and let it cook about 3 minutes. Put the bouquet of herbs on top. Add about 2-3 cups of water. Add zahtar, paprika and chili flakes to liquid and blend in. Cover with the lid and put in a preheated 325 oven for about 3 hours. Check once or twice and add water or beef broth as needed.
Meanwhile, move on to the the other parts of the dish.
1 cup sliced mushrooms (I used lobster mushrooms.)
1 cup sliced carrots (pre-sliced)
2 garlic bulbs, small size & most of paper removed
1 large onion, cut into bite-size pieces
1/2 cup small green olives
1 lemon, small/juice only
1/4 cup flat parsley, chopped
2 Tbl. fresh cilantro, chopped
After about 3 of cooking the beef, add the lentils, mushrooms, carrots, garlic, onion and olives and return to the oven cooking another 45 minutes (325 degrees). Check for tenderness of the added veggies. Vegetables and meat should be very tender. Remove from the oven. squeeze on the juice on a lemon and add the parsley and cilantro and toss into the beef mixture. It’s ready to serve!