Za’atar roasted butternut squash, spiced yoghurt and chillies


Recently I’ve been ordering Abel & Cole’s vegetable boxes on a regular basis, and although I love the fresh organic produce, sometimes I find myself wondering what to cook with certain vegetables.

Sure, I have a few butternut squash recipes up my sleeve, but sometimes you just want to try something new, without knowing what that something new would be… That’s when I’m grateful for my (rather large) cookbook collection. I love to grab a pile of cookbooks and search through them looking for that something I didn’t know I was looking for. This last time it was this wonderful recipe by Sabrina Ghayour from Persiana that caught my eye and I absolutely love it.

I had half of it for dinner the same night and the rest for lunch at work the day after (and received lots of envious looks from my colleagues), but it would work just as well as a starter or a side dish.

Za’atar roasted butternut squash, spiced yoghurt and chillies, serves 4 as a side dish

Adapted from Sabrina Ghayour’s recipe in Persiana.

1 large butternut squash

3 tbsp za’atar

3 tbsp olive oil

sea salt

Yoghurt sauce:

200 g Greek yoghurt 

a bunch of mint, finely chopped (I didn’t have any mint at home and therefore omitted it)

2 tsp sumac

1 tbsp ground coriander

2 tbsp olive oil

zest and juice from 1 lemon

black pepper

To serve:

1 bunch parsley

Pickled red chillies (I couldn’t find any and so brought fresh one, sliced them and covered them in lime juice for approx 20 minutes, then chopped into smaller pieces) 

nigella seeds

Pre-heat the oven to 240C. Line a baking sheet with nonstick baking paper.

Cut the squash horizontally in half at the point of the bulge. Now halve each portion vertically. Scoop out the seeds with a metal spoon and discard, then halve each piece vertically again until you have 8 pieces. Peel the squash and cut the pieces into any shape you wish. 

Make a paste with the za’atar and olive oil in a small bowl and rub the squash pieces all over with paste until every piece is well coated. Place all the pieces on to the prepared baking sheet. Season with sea salt, then roast for about 40-45 minutes (depending on the size of the pieces of squash), or until the edges start to brown and almost char a little. 

Meanwhile, in another bowl, mix the yoghurt with the fresh mint, sumac, coriander, olive oil, lemon zest and juice and sea salt and black pepper to taste. Mix the ingredients together well, then taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.  

Remove the squash pieces from the oven and place them on a serving platter. Liberally dollop or pour the yoghurt over the wedges, then sprinkle with the parsley. Follow this with a scant scattering of nigella seeds. Lastly scatter over the pickled chillies.  

Chicken drumsticks with za’atar marinade

I discovered the lovely herb blend za’atar on my trip to Syria about a year ago. It consists of sesame seeds and dried thyme, but depending on the blend it can taste quite different. I bought a large bag of my favourite blend, a special blend a Damascus spice wholesaler made so it is probably one of the best you can get.

I love to cook with this blend and have used it in a few different dishes. Last week I marinaded drumsticks in a mixture of za’atar, lemon juice, Japanese soy, olive oil and garlic for about 48 hours and the cooked chicken was lovely and moist and coated of a golden layer or the marinade.

I used dried limes (also purchased in Syria) and whole cardamom pods to flavour the rice, which is popular in the Middle East. Once drained and the spices removed I sprinkled some sumac on it for extra flavour. The sauce is a simple mix of creme fraiche/soured cream, sambal oelek and fresh lime juice.

If you don’t want to eat the chicken with rice for supper the drumsticks work well on a picnic as well.

Chicken drumsticks with za’atar marinade

6 chicken drumsticks

4 tbsp za’atar

1/2 lemon, the juice

2 tbsp Japanese soy

2 whole garlic cloves

1/2 olive oil

salt, black pepper

Mix all the ingredients in a large ziplock bag and shake to combine. Leave in the fridge to marinade for at least 24 hours, but preferrably 48. Cook in a 200C oven on a rack with a tin foil covered roasting tray below for about 20 minutes.

Ottolenghi’s one pot wonder

As I might have told you several times already, I am a huge fan of Ottolenghi’s cooking. Mostly I adore his cookbook Plenty but I also like the Ottolenghi cookbook that was published before Plenty.

This recipe is another one of his creations, an all-in-one-pan-kind-of-meal with quite basic ingredients (potatoes, onions, chilli, garlic, yoghurt, eggs) and some unusual seasoning (sumac and tahini) but it made a perfect weekday supper, would be perfect for breakfast or to cure any bad hangover.

Unfortunately I was all out of tahini without realising it, when I made this dish, so I substituted for the next best thing; za’atar and that worked really well.

Ottolenghi’s one pot wonder, serves 2

Adapted from Ottolenghi’s recipe.

olive oil

3 onions, thinly sliced (I only used one red onion)

200 g baby potatoes, sliced into 5 mm thick slices

1/2 red chilli, finely chopped

1/2 tbsp sumac

salt & black pepper

1/2 tsp caster sugar

1 clove of garlic, pressed

100 g Greek yoghurt

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tbsp olive oil

300 g cherry tomatoes on the vine

4 eggs

1,5 tbsp tahini paste (I used 1 tbsp of za’atar instead)

1 tbsp chopped coriander (which I forgot)

Heat up olive oil in a sauteuse pan. Add the onions, potatoes, chilli, sumac, salt and pepper and cook on medium heat for 20 minutes until the potatoes are soft. Then add sugar and garlic, and adjust the seasoning if needed.

Mix yoghurt, lemon juice and olive oil in a small bowl and set aside. In a seperate pan, add the tomatoes, vine facing up, when the pan is hot and cook the tomatoes for 3-4 minutes until well charred. Remove from the pan.

Spread the potatoes and onions evenly in its pan and break four eggs on top. Try to keep the yolks whole. Fry for three minutes, until the whites start to set. Then cover and cook for another minute or two for the whites to set completely. Add dollops of the yoghurt, avoiding the yolks, then sprinkle with tahini or za’atar (again, avoiding the yolks). Place the tomatoes, still on the vine, on top and sprinkle with coriander. Serve straight from the pan. 

Gitto’s Damascus chicken wings

We went on holiday to Syria in March, before the country fell apart more or less, and felt very lucky that we got to visit before everything took a turn for the worst, but you also feel a bit guilty for it. We got to experience the lovely country and then just left and went back home, and didn’t have to deal with what came next.

It is terrible what is happening in the Middle East and I certainly don’t want to belittle all that. But. I did fall in love with the country and especially its food, and that is why I want to share this great recipe with you.

The most wonderful spice blend I got to taste in Syria was za’atar that is very popular all over the Middle East. It is a spice blend consisting of thyme and sesame seeds mainly, and as all other blends it can taste very different depending on the specific ratios. The one we tried and bought from a whole saler in Damascus was just fabulous and something I really treasure since we got back.

And when I saw that a Swedish food blogger had come up with chicken wings with za’atar I just couldn’t resist trying it.

It was very unusual, I bet you, just like me, think of chicken wings and chilli sauce, not za’atar. But this was new and fresh and together with a lovely feta dip this was a great weekday treat.

The original recipe is in Swedish only, so my translation follow below:

Damscus chicken wings, serves 2

400 g chicken wings

70 g or so of ciftlik paneer (or proper feta)

100 ml milk

a few mint leaves

100 ml za’atar

100 ml olive oil

vegetable oil for deep-frying

1/2 cucumber

Turn the oven on 75C. Split the chicken wings by the joint. Place in a colander. Pour a litre of boiling water over the wings and then place them on a wire rack with a baking tray underneath. Let them crisp up in the oven for 40 minutes.

Mix cheese and milk and add the mint. Mix za’atar and olive oil in a bowl. Cut the cucumber into batons. Deep-fry the chicken wings in 180C oil until nice and golden, for about 6-7 minutes. Fry in batches and place on kitchen towel. Mix the chicken wings with the za’atar mixture and dig in.

Bacon-wrapped pork patties with za’atar

As you might recall, we went to Syria on holiday before all hell broke loose over there, in March. And I still found myself so grateful for the experience. Especially the food experience, of course. Like za’atar, and especially the great blend we managed to get our hands on thanks to the food tour that showed us this spice wholesaler in Damascus. They had three different blends of za’atar, they were all really nice and we had trouble choosing. But then they pulled out another blend; a mixture of the three blends according to an old secret recipe and the result was amazing.

I deeply treasure that bag or Syrian gold, and I don’t want to waste it, but I don’t want it to sit in my cupboard either, so once in a while I get the bag out and cook with it.

This is a very simple weekday recipe made so much more interesting with the za’atar, and the sesame thyme blend works really well on pork. It was utterly delicous! I served it with potato wedges and some halloumi that joined the potatoes for 5-10 mins in the oven and some asparagus. Simple and lovely.

Baconlindade fläskfärsbiffar med za’atar, 3 portioner

500 g pork mince

1 egg

100 ml breadcrumbs

1 tbsp za’atar

a pinch of salt

white pepper

1 packet streaky bacon

Mix all the ingredients apart from the meat in a bowl. Let it swell for a few minutes. Add the mince and mix thoroughly with a wooden fork. Shape to patties and wrap in bacon. Fry until golden on both sides in a frying pan, then transfer to the oven until cooked through. Serve with potato wedges, halloumi and asparagus, and maybe a nice cold sauce. 

Roast chicken with lemon and za’atar with potato salad

Loving the weather right now! Here in London it has been around 20C for a while now, and the sun is shining every day, although battling the clouds from time to time. And this weather just calls for lighter food, don’t you think? On Sunday I did a different take on the Sunday roast with a whole roast chicken, flavoured with za’atar, sumac and lemon served with a classic French potato salad and a side salad. Easy peasy and sooo good! Try this at home, folks.

Roast chicken with lemon and za’atar with potato salad, serves 2

1 medium chicken

30 g softened butter

1 tbsp za’atar

1 tsp sumac

1/2 citron

salt, black pepper

400 g new potatoes

150 ml creme fraiche

2 tbsp mayonnaise

2 tsp dijon mustard

salt, white pepper


Heat the oven to 200C. Rinse the chicken and place in a roasting tray. Mix butter with spices and the zest from the lemon. Make a cut i the skin on each breast, and place most of the butter there. Smooth it out underneath the skin so it covers most of the breasts. Brush the bird with the remaining butter. Add some more salt and pepper. Place the lemon in the cavity. Place in oven for about an hour. It is done when the meat juices are clear from the thigh joint. Leave to rest a little before serving.

Boil the potatoes, leave to cool. Dice. Mix creme fraiche, mayonnaise, mustard and seasoning. Add the potatoes. Cut the chives with scissors and add to the salad before serving. Stir to combine.