Sami’s Kitchen spice range is one of the most exciting things to hit my desk recently.
As most of you will know, my father is of Lebanese origin, so I am very fond of Lebanese cuisine and many Lebanese dishes anchor strong childhood memories within my psyche.
In my family, food is love. My dear late Tatah (grandmother, in Arabic) was a champion cook and all-round eating ambassador. As soon as you entered her house she would usher you directly to the table to eat. Then, while you sat eating, she would not-so-subtly pace around the table heaping additional food onto plates so that after an hour-long meal your plate was still full!
There was none of that Oliver-like ‘may I have some more please?’ in that house.
Out of the four spice blends I received, I immediately gravitated towards the Zaatar.
Zaatar is a pungent mix of dried thyme (zaatar in Arabic!), sesame seeds, sumac, coriander, cumin and salt. In Lebanon, families make their own special house blend, so it can vary from village to village.
Above is a picture of Sami’s Kitchen version of the dry spice mix. It might look a bit black and intimidating to some and I will admit, it can be an acquired taste, but once you get into it you will be hooked!
This is how it looks when mixed liberally with olive oil.
One of my favourite childhood memories is mixing up this concoction and delivering it to my Dad at the breakfast table. Accompanying it was a bowl of labne (yoghurt cheese drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt), a block of cheese (either halloumi, sheep’s milk fetta or shankleesh), fat black olives and a loaf of warm Lebanese flat bread.
We would sit together and rip off rough pieces of warm bread, swish it around in the herb mix and eat. Some pieces would get filled with a small piece of cheese before being rolled up and dipped in the Zaatar. This ritual was repeated over and over. It was, and still is, my Dad’s favourite breakfast.
Zaatar is not just for breakfast, though. It also makes a fabulous pizza topping. Or in this case, a moreish filling for puff pastry.
I got this recipe from my favourite Lebanese food blog Taste of Beirut. The gorgeous Joumana makes the most amazing food and so many of her posts bring back wonderful childhood memories for me. I love the way she uses a very traditional condiment and makes it really modern with these zaatar batons.
You simply roll out the puff pastry until very thin and then rub with the wet zaatar mix. Roll up ‘like a carpet’ (her words!) and then sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake in a hot oven until golden.
I have created a creamy labne dipping sauce that I think complements the flaky pasty beautifully and nods to the way zaatar is eaten at breakfast time.
Disclosure: Fig & Cherry received the spice blends with compliments of Sami’s Kitchen to experiment with. Many thanks to Hayssam!
Zaatar Batons with Labne dipping sauce
3 sheets puff pastry
30g zaatar spice mix
80ml olive oil
2 tablespoons olive oil, extra
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
For the dip
6 tablespoons labne (Lebanese yoghurt cheese, you could substitute Greek-style yoghurt)
2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, pounded to a paste
big pinch of salt
1. If you are using frozen puff pastry then let it defrost at room temperature for about an hour.
2. Preheat the oven to 180C/375F. Put the zaatar and olive oil into a bowl and whisk to create a loose paste (see picture above for reference). Set aside.
3. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the first sheet of puff pastry as thinly as you can into a rectangle shape. Spoon a third of the paste in blobs all over the pastry then use the back of the spoon to spread it out evenly.
4. Using your fingers, roll the pastry up like a carpet, from the short end. If the baton seems too fat then roll and rub with the palms of your hands until it thins out. Then cut in half and place on a baking sheet lined with non-stick paper. Repeat with the other two sheets of puff pastry.
5. Brush each of the batons with olive oil and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 15 minutes until puffed and golden.
6. Place the labne, tahini, garlic, olive oil and salt in a small bowl and stir until well combined. Serve with the zaatar batons.