Chickpeas, bulgur, dressing and za'atar, oh my!
Middle Eastern chickpea salad with homemade za’atar, lemon-tahini-mint dressing and tangy bulgur with sumac is a refreshing and satisfying salad meal.
Za'atar makes it Middle Eastern Chickpea salad
What is za’atar?
For our consideration, za’atar (zah-tar) is a simple spice blend of toasted cumin, thyme, marjoram, sumac, toasted sesame seeds a bit of salt and ground black pepper. Google translate actually Za’atar in Arabic means thyme so I suppose it’s a good thing we’ll be adding that.
How do I make za’atar?
Za’atar is super simple to make. Essentially, you’ll just mix all the spices together. I usually add it all in a jar or container that I can seal and then give it a good shake to mix it all up. Start with the amounts of each spice I recommend and then adjust if you like. I go easy on the salt because I know I can always add that later. This is particularly important is you’re going to be adding dressings or other ingredients to recipes, like vegetable broth, that might contain added salt.
Salt – always forward, never back
The tricky thing about salt, you can always add it, but if you get something too salty, you can’t really fix it. It’s the first thing I learned about cooking. You want to add salt just a bit at a time, throughout the cooking process. Your salt hounds can always have a shaker on the table.
How to toast sesame seeds
To toast the sesame seeds, just heat a skillet and add them. It’s easy for them to get away from you in a hot pan, so be sure that you stir them constantly. Remove them from the pan immediately, otherwise, they may continue browning (burning) when your back is turned, tricky little things that they are. You can also cut the heat about halfway through the process, but reserve this for a pan you know well, so you can anticipate how long it will hold the heat. The entire process takes less than 3 minutes to get them to a nice brown.
what is sumac?
Sumac is a dried spice used in a lot of Middle Eastern recipes. It has a delightful sour, lemony taste combined with earthiness. It’s great for salads, like my favorite Fattoush salad which combines it with pomegranate. It enhances the flavor of the rest of the spices in our za’atar blend and is particularly nice with the cumin.
What do I do with that leftover za’atar spice blend?
Chances are, you’ll finish this recipe with more za’atar than you need. No worries. Just store it in a small container with a lid (or even in a baggie) and put in the cupboard with the rest of your spices. Learn from my experience – label it so you know.
What else can I use za’atar for?
In addition to spicing up our chickpeas, za’atar is a great addition for roasted vegetables and grains such as rice. You can also add it to simmering red lentils and sweet potatoes to create an unusual Middle Eastern dal. Once you’ve tried it, I’m sure you’ll think of a lot of great uses for it. For today though, we’ll stick to the chickpeas.
Let’s make Middle Eastern Chickpea Salad
Ok, we’ve made our special za’atar spice blend and now, onward to our salad. It’s super easy and there are no really hard and fast rules to it.
Make the bulgur first
Once you have the spices sorted, everything else can happen while the bulgur cooks and rests. I am a huge fan of bulgur because it has such a lovely, nutty taste and it cooks up quickly – like 15 minutes. If it gets done before you’re ready, just let it sit with the lid on and it will get a bit fluffier and stay warm.
In making this salad, I decided to serve the bulgur alongside the chickpeas rather than mix them together. Let the eaters accomplish that task. For that reason, I jazzed up the bulgur by adding sumac and cumin along with a bit of lemon juice.
Make the dressing next
I seriously love the mixture of tahini, garlic and lemon or lime as a dressing base. I use variations of that theme with zucchini-green bean salad with tahini dressing and even buffalo chickpea bowls. It accompanies the Middle Easter chickpea salad with my usual tahini, garlic, lemon and a bit of water to thin it and this time, I added mint.
Chickpeas with za'atar
Plan it out
Once you have the za’atar mixed, preparing the chickpeas is straightforward, but let’s make a bit of a pit stop first by gathering all our remaining salad ingredients. This ensures that the chickpeas will be hot when you serve up the salad. I lined 4 plates with a few cups of lettuce leaves and then had halved cherry tomatoes and avocado slices at the ready. You might opt for additional ingredients here such as sliced radishes, cucumber or carrots.
Now, about those chickpeas
Dice up a small red pepper and red onion, open two cans or chickpeas, rinse and drain them and off you go. It might sound counter-intuitive but start by roasting the chickpeas in a dry skillet before adding the red pepper, onion, tomato paste and za’atar. This allows the chickpeas to brown up. Be prepared if you’ve not done this before, the chickpeas will sound off with enthusiasm.
Last step – put it together
Bulgur cooked? Check. Dressing? Check. Salad plates at the ready? Check. Once your chickpeas are done, just assemble everything on the plates. I served the dressing alongside so that folks could add what they wanted and tossed a bit of chopped mint over the top of the salad for good measure. Yummy!
After we finished our lovely lunch of Middle Eastern chickpea salad, I placed my little jar of unused za’atar in the back of the cupboard – right next to the Berbere spice blend I use for easy Ethiopian stew, which was right next 2 other spice blends I’d created, used once and forgotten about. Not only did I not remember how old they were, but in one case, I wasn’t entirely sure what it was. It got me thinking about the concept of ‘saving for later’. Sometimes life gets in the way of the best laid plans and our good intentions, but sometimes it just comes down to putting our plans (or spice blends) in front, so they get the importance they deserve. Peace.Print
Middle Eastern Chickpea salad
- Prep Time: 25 minutes
- Cook Time: 20 minutes
- Total Time: 45 minutes
- Yield: 4 big plates 1x
- Category: Salads & Bowls
- Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Za’atar spice blend
- 1 Tbsp. ground cumin
- 1 Tbsp. dried thyme
- 1 Tbsp. sumac
- 2 Tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
- 2 tsp. dried marjoram
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. ground black pepper
- 1 cup dry bulgur
- 2 ¼ cups vegetable broth (or 2 ¼ cups water + 1 vegetable bouillon cube)
- 3 tbsp lemon juice
- ¼ tsp. cumin
- 1 tsp sumac
- Pinch of salt
- ¼ cup tahini
- Juice of 2 lemons
- 1 clove garlic
- ¼ cup water (more if you need to thin it out)
- 2 tbsp. fresh mint, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 1 small red onion, diced
- 2 – 15 oz. (400 gm.) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 2 Tbsp. za’atar spice blend
- 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 2 Tbsp. water
Additional salad ingredients
- 6-8 cups spring mix salad, chopped lettuce, baby spinach or other salad greens
- 1-2 avocados, sliced
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half
- Other desired ingredients such as sliced radishes, cucumber or carrots
Za’atar spice blend
- Preheat a skillet over medium heat. Add the sesame seeds and toast them for 2-3 minutes until they are golden. Be sure to stir the sesame seeds constantly to avoid them burning. Remove them from the pan immediately to stop the cooking process. Keep that pan handy, we’ll use them for the chickpeas.
- Add all the ingredients in a small jar or dish and mix well. Set aside.
- Rinse the dry bulgur and place it in a medium pot along with 2 ¼ cups of vegetable broth (or 2 ¼ cups water and 1 vegetable bouillon cube).
- Add the lemon juice, cumin, sumac and a pinch of salt. Mix well.
- Bring the pot to a boil and then reduce to simmering. Cover the pot and allow the bulgur to simmer until the broth is absorbed (15 minutes). Once cooked, take if off the heat, but leave the lid on so it stays warm while you make the rest of the salad.
- In a small bowl, whisk together all the ingredients for the dressing. Add additional water a tablespoon at a time until you have the desired consistency.
Prepare the rest of the salad ingredients
- Lay out 4 plates and add the salad greens to each plate.
- Prepare your additional salad ingredients and set them aside to add when you have your chickpeas done.
- Drain and rinse 2 cans of chickpeas, heat a medium skillet and add the chickpeas. Stir them for 3-5 minutes until they start to brown.
- Add the chopped onions, red pepper and za’atar. Stir to coat the chickpeas and allow the onions to brown for about 2 minutes.
- Mix in the tomato paste and 2 Tbsp. water. Stir for another minute so everything is heated through.
- Finish the salad by adding the bulgur, chickpeas and the remaining salad ingredients to each plate.
- Serve with the dressing on the side.
- All information is based on 4 servings. You may want to adjust the amount of salad greens depending on what other salad ingredients you use. You might also eliminate the greens completely and use steamed green beans to create more of a main, rather than a ‘salad main’.
- If you don’t happen to have bulgur, you can use the same amount of rice, quinoa, millet or other grain of your preference as a substitute.
- If you want a lemonier flavor for your dressing, you can use the zest of 1 of the lemons to enhance the flavor.
Keywords: Middle Eastern chickpea salad