Middle eastern stuffed lentil zatar bread with a cool yogurt dip and a book ravings!

Ever since Joanne announced her Middle Eastern regional cooking event I have been going over in my mind thinking about what to cook. To be fair, middle eastern cuisine is so rich in its flavors with all the aromatic spices and moist marinated meat and non-meat dishes that picking any one dish is a herculean task! For most part my mind was set on making Nupur's delicious Ful Medames because that's one dish I truly enjoy eating out everytime I go to a middle eastern restaurant; but after a weeklong fruitless search for canned or dried fava beans, I had to change my plans (by the way, any suggestions where I may find canned or dried fava beans -- ideally around SF bay area?)

Then I thought, rather than showcasing a recipe, why not showcase a middle eastern ingredient and let the recipes revolve around that! Voila, now I sure knew what I was going to be making. Ever since I saw these delicious recipes with zatar on Kalyn' blog, I have been itching to get my hands on this middle eastern spice blend! Her blog is such a wonderful treasure of so many delicious recipes made healthy that when she featured Zatar in so many different ways, I was sure I was going to love this spice! So the focus of today's middle eastern recipes is Zatar.

Now what is zatar, you may ask: Zatar is a middle eastern spice blend made from various spices most notable of which are sumac, thyme, oregano, paprika and white sesame seeds. Some zatar blends also include caraway seeds or cumin, coriander. Its a very unique and delicious spice with lemony, peppery and earthy notes -- typical of the taste that reminds me of good middle eastern food. If you get a chance, I strongly recommend you try this spice blend, it sure was the best $3 I spent last month! Otherwise, there is a simple recipe here or you can always use your favorite greek spice blend or just substitute with a home-made blend of oregano, thyme, cumin, coriander and sesame seeds.
My first attempt cooking with zatar is a middle eastern stuffed lentil bread that I ate at a local middle eastern restaurant a while ago. It is similar to the Afghan Bolani bread except that the bolani wrappers are much thinner and flakier while wrapper for this bread are more paratha like. I made a dough out of AP flour, water and salt. The stuffing is cooked and spiced french green lentils with zatar. The stuffing infact was so tasty that I finished half of it as Chef's treat while making the breads :)

The second recipe is a simple yogurt dip to go along with the stuffed bread made by flavoring yogurt with zatar, lime juice and salt-pepper. Though this is so simple, this is by far the simplest and the tastiest yogurt dip I have had (yes, better than the mint-cucumber raita!) and I'll surely be making it again and again. Thanks Kalyn for introducing this wonderful ingredient to my pantry!

Recipe: Stuffed lentil bread with zatar
1.5 C all purpose flour
1/2C warm water - or more or less to make a pliable dough
pinch of salt

3/4C cooked lentils (I used french green lentils - use any lentils)
1Tbsp finely chopped red onion
1Tbsp finely chopped cilantro
1tsp zatar spice blend (see description and alternatives above)
1/2tsp cumin powder
salt to taste

  1. Make a pliable dough from flour, salt and water. Knead well for atleast 10minutes or until the dough is soft, smooth and ready. If the dough is very sticky and wet, add some more flour. Cover with a plastic wrap and let rest for an hour.
  2. Meanwhile, cook lentils per package directions (I boiled lentils and water in 1:3 proportion; then reduced heat to simmer and cook covered for 20-25minutes -- proportion and cooking time varies depending on the lentil variety).
  3. Add cilantro, onions, salt and stuffing spices to the cooked lentils. Mix well and set aside.
  4. Divide the dough into 4 equal sized balls.
  5. Using a rolling pin or your hands flatten the dough into a circular disk with a diameter roughly equal to your palm.
  6. Add few spoonful of stuffing onto half of the disk. Fold the other half over and using a bit of water tightly seal the edges making a half circular stuffed disk.
  7. Using your hands flatter the half circular bread as much as possible taking care not to tare the mixture apart (If its really easy to tear it apart then try to reduce the amount of stuffing for the next one).
  8. On a hot pan or griddle, heat a tsp of oil. When hot, add the bolani. Let it cook on one side until well cooked (red marks should start to appear).
  9. Flip the bread over, add a bit more oil if needed and cook again until both sides are thoroughly cooked.
  10. Remove from heat and serve hot with a cooling yogurt dip!
Recipe: Yogurt zatar dip
Yogurt - 1/2C
Zatar - 1tsp
lime juice
salt & pepper

Mix all the ingredients together. Let rest for half an hour or so before serving.

Notes: You can surely add some mint or cilantro to this yogurt dip too.

I am sending this middle eastern snack party over to Joanne for the regional foods events - hosted this month by Joanne.

I am also sending this as a second entry to Pari's combo event.
(Zatar spice blend)
Now I want to squeeze in a book that I recently read. It is a true life snippet of an Iranian author/professor Azar Nafisi and the book is called Reading Lolita in Tehran: A memoir in books. I have always loved reading books, but not until I realized that I could read a book about the books.. he he!!

Nafisi, a literature professor from Tehran, resigns from her day job at the university in 1990's due to some of the restrictive policies she encounters. As a silent way of retaliating she starts a book club at her home with seven of her most talented female students. They go over literary classics of authors such as Vladimir Nabokov, Jane Austen, F Scott Fitzerald, Daisy Miller and Henry James (many of these books were banned then and there).

The story revolves around the bookclub where these girls read each of the great classics and then discuss their interpretations of it while intertwined in these discussions are the pictures of their individual lives, the state of the society, women's rights, authoritarian regime and many such issues. The books they read are their window to the world outside and fittingly enough this bookclub eventually gives them the strength to resist the unfairness around.

This is not a light read but it is not violent read either. Its a book that makes you think a lot.. many times after reading a few pages I had to take a small break to 'mull things over' so to say. If you are interested in a thought provoking discussion about these historic books through the eyes of seven female students and their teacher in Tehran, then go for it!

Now the last post's truth and lies game: I thought I had done a really good job of hiding one truth behind the six cleverly crafted lies, but turns out I under-estimated you guys potential! Five people were the brave truth hunters who correctly guessed that #4 (many people confuse me to be of greek or mediterranean decent -- only to see if my accent give it away) was the truth: Pari ofcourse, two new visitors to this blog: Saumya and Latha, and Rahin and Dolly! Thanks all for the guesses.. a lot of people guessed few of the lies correctly too! So on that sweet note, I'll see you all next time.