Flatbread with Zatar

If you have not had the pleasure of being introduced to zatar, allow me the honor.  Meet zatar, sometimes called za’atar.  It is a spice blend found all over the middle east and is a mixture of herbs, salt, and sesame seed.  Usually based on rubbed thyme it can also include oregano, marjoram, sumac, savory, lemon.  It is traditionally used sprinkled on pita and hummus or to season meat or vegetables.  Recently I was given a gift of zatar from the shuk in Jerusalem and have been finding wonderful things to do with it.  Here is a fabulous recipe for a flatbread that has zatar in the dough and sprinkled on top.  It smells great cooking, is a gorgeous color, tastes fantastic and is a very easy special treat.  We are eating it with lentil barley soup made with coconut milk and pumpkin tonight – just right for a very cold evening.

Flatbread with Zatar

for the dough:

  • 1 cup hot water (1/2 cup boiling water and 1/2 cup cold mixed together)
  • 2 1/4 tsp dry yeast
  • 1 Tbs honey
  • 3-4 cups flour
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 2 Tbs zatar
  • 1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

for the topping:

  • 1-2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 Tbs zatar
  • ~4 oz crumbled salty cheese; Mexican, Greek, or feta

Put the hot water into a bowl or the bowl of the food processor if you are using it.  Sprinkle the yeast over the water.  Add in the honey and 1 cup flour, stir and allow to sit for a few minutes.  Then stir in the oil, salt, zatar, and turmeric and another cup of flour.  Mix in another half cup of flour and start to knead the dough.  Add flour, by the quarter cupful, as needed to get a good bread dough – not sticky but not dry.  Knead the dough another few minutes until it is smooth and you can form it into a ball.  Put a little olive oil in the bottom of a clean bowl then turn the ball of dough in it so the dough is oiled on all sides.  Cover the bowl with a clean cloth or plastic wrap and set aside to rise.  (The place you put the dough should be warmish but not hot – like the top of the stove but not in a hot oven or on a hot burner.)  Allow the dough to rise for 3-4 hours.  Every 30-45 minutes punch the dough down and knead for a minute or two.  All this extra kneading will make the dough have a great texture.  When you are ready to cook the flatbread, heat the oven to 425.  If you have a pizza stone heat it at the same time the oven is heating up.  If you don’t have one you can just use cookie sheets or even glass baking dishes.  Split the dough into 5-7 equal sized pieces.  Flatten each one using a combination of a rolling-pin, poking with your fingers, pinching around the edges, tossing like pizza – whatever works best for you.  It doesn’t have to be a symmetrical shape, in fact it is more appealing if it is imperfect.  When it is flat put on a cutting board with a little flour underneath (this will allow it to slide off and not stick).  Rub enough olive oil on the dough to wet it but not so much to leave pools.  Sprinkle with some zatar then sprinkle with the cheese.  Slide off the board either onto the pizza stone or the baking sheet.  Bake until the dough starts to brown lightly around the edges and the cheese starts to toast a little and brown.  Remove from oven, cut into wedges, and eat hot.  Or eat cold.  This is good as an appetizer, served to dip into hummus, as a side bread with soup, as the base of a sandwich, with pepper spread, or by itself.  You can make these smaller and serve one per person or bigger and cut them smaller.  Whatever suits you.

Strength, Weakness, and Damage or Why I Disagree With Nietzsche

Any of us who has suffered, either physically or psychologically or emotionally or in any other way, has most likely heard the Nietzsche quote that has become an inspiring platitude: “That which does not kill you makes you stronger.”  And inspiring it is – I must admit to loving this quote when I was young and green, before life had showed me some of its uglier faces.  But now, having been on the receiving end of sympathetic head shaking and encouraging platitudes galore I have heard this little goody from Nietzsche enough times to actually make me think about it.  And, Nietzsche, my little friend, you’ve got it wrong. 

I have come to realize that there are some things that don’t kill but irrevocably weaken – the body and the spirit – and leave permanent damage.  This is not something we like to say; this is a painful and stark reality that does the opposite of embracing the (admittedly appealing and friendly feel-good) theory that differences among people are embraced only when they reflect positive aspects of us.  There are some times, some things that leave us less than we were before.  A broken bone can heal and be stronger than it was originally.  A bone can also be broken so badly, or not treated correctly, or heal wrong and always be weak or twisted or painful.  In the same way psychological pain can leave us stronger or weaker.  Why is it that what damages one person improves another?  Why is it that in some people a thick scar weakens and in others it does nothing?  I don’t have the answers, I just know that it happens. 

It is an ugly truth that we can’t control everything, we can’t fix everything, we can’t heal everything.  But it is also true that being weak or damaged doesn’t necessarily mean being a lesser human being.  A man with a limp is no less a man.  A woman with a fearful heart is no less a woman.  More important than weakness or strength; being perfect or being damaged; being whole or broken is being. 

So, Nietzsche was wrong about suffering making us stronger but that’s ok.  More generations of people will be inspired through hard times with his famous quote.  And many will continue to be inspired by this William Ernest Henley poem, Invictus, which I appreciate so much more than one sentence platitudes.  Enjoy.  Be strong, or not.  Just be.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
for my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance,
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance,
My head is bloodied, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishment the scroll.
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.

Black Eyed Peas for New Year’s Day

In millions of households this, as every, year people ate black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day.  Eating these little legumes is supposed to bring good luck and financial prosperity.  Why black-eyed peas you might ask?  There are two main schools of thought that are as different as, well,  black-eyed peas and pumpkins.  Since the time of the Talmud Jews traditionally ate black-eye peas, among other foodstuffs, as symbols of good luck on the Jewish New Year.  The other theory, which explains why this little pea is popular on New Year’s Eve in the southern United States, has to do with the results of field and supply stripping during the Civil War.  Black-eyed peas were considered food for livestock, not people, so was one of the few things left to eat after the troops ate, raided, and carried away everything they thought worthy from farms and homes in the south.  No matter the tradition, you will get a hearty dose of fiber, vitamins, protein, calcium, and flavor with black-eyed peas.  Here are three recipes to start your new year right.  Enjoy.

Green Black-Eyed Pea Soup

  • 2 cups dried black-eyed peas
  • 4-6 cups water to cook peas
  • 6 cups water, veggie stock, or chicken stock
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 large onion
  • 1-2 leeks
  • 2 cups frozen spinach or 4 packed cups fresh spinach
  • 2 Tbs stone-ground mustard
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Rinse the peas and put in a large pot with 4-6 cups cold water.  Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cook ~45 minutes until the peas are tender.  Drain off the water, rinse the peas and set aside.  Dry pot and then heat the oil in the bottom over medium heat.  Dice the onion and add to the hot oil.  Mince or finely chop the garlic and add to the onions.  Cook a couple of minutes, stirring often.  Don’t let it start to burn or brown too darkly, it will make the soup bitter.  Add the peas and the stock to the pot and allow to come to a rolling boil then reduce heat to a low boil.  Meanwhile, slice and wash the leeks then add to the soup.  Add in the spinach and mustard and allow to cook for 1/2 hour.  The vegetables should be tender.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve hot with rice, corn bread, garlic bread, or a side of grits.  You can serve with Tabasco or another vinegary hot sauce to add. 

Confetti Black-Eyed Peas

  • 2 cups black-eyed peas, dried
  • 4-6 cups water for cooking
  • 3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbs red wine or cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red chili flakes
  • 1 large or two small cloves garlic, chopped fine or crushed
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 red or orange bell pepper
  • 1 green or yellow bell pepper
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 large carrot
  • (1 cup crumbled feta cheese – optional)

Rinse peas and then cook them in a large pot in the water for about 45 minutes.  You want them to be tender but not falling apart.  Drain then rinse them well in cold water to cool and set aside to drain again.  Chop the peppers, peeled carrot, and peeled onion into little dice – all the vegetables should be cut to approximately the same size as each other and the same size as the peas.  Make the dressing by whisking together the oil, vinegar, herbs, chili, salt, pepper, and garlic.  Toss with the peas and vegetables and feta if you are using it and let marinate in the fridge for at least 2-3 hours, overnight is fine.  Remove from the fridge at least half an hour before serving, this is best served not fridge cold. 

Gingery Coconut Milk Black-Eyed Peas

  • 2 cups black-eyed peas
  • 4-6 cups water for cooking
  • 2 inch piece of fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 yellow onions
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 cup water or vegetable stock
  • 2 large carrots
  • 1 large stalk celery
  • (optional – 1 large or 2 small zucchini)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Cook peas, instructions as above.  Drain and rinse and hold aside.  Mince or finely chop garlic, peel and grate ginger, and quarter then thinly slice onion.  Heat oil in bottom of pot over medium heat then add the garlic, onion, and ginger.  Cook a few minutes until it starts to lightly brown then quickly add the peas, water, and coconut milk.  Peel and dice the carrot and dice the celery and zucchini if you are using it.  Cook over medium low heat until carrots are tender.  If you need to add water or stock to keep the dish saucy add half a cup at a time.  Season with salt and pepper, serve hot with rice or quinoa.