One of the most joyful meals I had in recent months was outdoors under heat lamps at the Lebanese restaurant Au Za’atar in New York City’s East Village. Even masked and bundled in my puffy coat on that chilly night, I was reminded of all the reasons I love, and have sorely missed, dining out.
Besides the good company of friends and the exciting menu, the presentation was an absolute thrill. We ordered the tableside shawarma, a small-batch spit of spiced chicken (or meat) placed on the table to admire and, of course, photograph, as it continues to cook and then gets carved tableside. We also ordered an array of dips and flatbreads, which arrived in splendor on tiered Lazy Susan towers.
I had forgotten how entertaining eating could be! Inspired by one of the flatbreads I tasted that evening, this quick and easy recipe is my way of bringing some of the pixie dust from that meal to my everyday eating.
To make it, you mash cooked chickpeas in a bowl with olive oil and lemon juice just enough so that they start to join, then season them with a generous amount of za’atar. In case you are not familiar with it, za’atar is a Middle Eastern herb mix, which, although the exact blend varies, is usually a mixture of dried oregano, thyme, marjoram, sumac and sesame seeds.
It is typically served on bread with olive oil, but it’s heavenly sprinkled on just about anything from popcorn to eggs to grilled vegetables. You can find it in most regular supermarkets nowadays.
For these pizzas, the chickpea mash gets piled onto whole-grain pita, then sprinkled with tangy feta cheese, chopped fresh tomatoes and shredded mozzarella. They are baked in a hot oven until the bread is crisped, the cheese is melted and the fragrance of the herbs is unleashed, before the whole mess gets showered with fresh parsley.
The result is a meal that brings a thrilling change of pace to the table, simple and healthful and brimming with flavor.
Za’atar-Spiced Chickpea Pita Pizzas
Two (15-ounce cans) no-salt-added chickpeas, drained and rinsed (or 3 cups cooked chickpeas)
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons za’atar (see note)
Kosher salt (optional)
Four (6-inch) whole-wheat pitas
½ cup (2 ounces) crumbled feta cheese
1 cup (6 ounces) quartered grape tomatoes
⅔ cup (2 ½ ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese
Fresh chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
Position a rack in the top third of an oven and preheat to 450 degrees.
Place the chickpeas in a medium bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil and the lemon juice, then use a fork or a potato masher to mash the chickpeas coarsely, until about half of them are broken down and the mixture joins. Stir in the za’atar. Taste and season with salt, if desired (depending on the salt content of the za’atar you are using).
Place the pita onto a large, rimmed baking sheet and brush the top side of each with the remaining 2 teaspoons of olive oil.
Mound about a quarter of the chickpea mixture onto each pita, then sprinkle each with the feta, then the tomatoes and then the mozzarella cheese.
Place in the oven and roast for 12 to 14 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the bread has crisped. Garnish with the parsley and serve.
Note: Za’atar blends vary widely in sodium content, and the amount is not always clearly listed. Try to find a brand with no added salt or with a low-sodium content where salt is one of the last items on the ingredient list.
Alternatively, you can substitute 1 ½ teaspoons each dried oregano and dried thyme plus 1 teaspoon each toasted sesame seeds and lemon zest for the za’atar in this recipe.
Yield: 4 servings
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