Farmer's Weekly (South Africa)

Real Cooking for Real Men

The superb flavour of this quick and easy dish comes from an extremely old Middle Eastern seasoning, za’atar, that is still a mainstay in the region. For the chicken, use thighs rather than breasts; they are more succulent and offer superior flavour.


Za’atar is a tart herb and spice mix that is standard in many Levantine kitchens, from Lebanon down to Egypt. The ingredient­s are herbs, sumac, sesame seeds and salt. The herb component varies, but traditiona­lly it contains hyssop, also known as Syrian oregano. This has long been used as a flavouring, and in Biblical times was also used as an antiseptic and hence for purificati­on: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean.” When burnt, it has a similar crisp, clarifying perfume to mpepho, as any sangoma will confirm.

If your local Asian supermarke­t doesn’t stock za’atar, ordinary oregano is an adequate alternativ­e.

Next, chickpeas. These come as little molar-destroying stones which may soften over time with extensive boiling. Get canned quickpeas; they’re much easier.

If you wish, briefly toast the sesame seeds in a dry frying pan over high heat to increase their flavour.

1 Action stations: preheat the oven to 220°C.

2 While this is going on, de-skin and debone the thighs, freezing the bones for later use in stock-making and feeding the skin to the cat. Cut the thigh fillets into strips or bite-sized chunks. Crush, peel and finely chop the garlic. Wash, de-stem and coarsely chop the living mint leaves. Drain the canned chickpeas.

3 Combine the za’atar with the extra-virgin olive oil, then coat the filleted thighs with the mixture. Select a heavybased, ovenproof frying pan or cast-iron skillet and bring this up to medium heat on the hob.

To make chicken thighs with an ancient seasoning for four, you will need:

8 chicken thighs

2 tablespoon­s of za’atar

4 cloves of fresh garlic

2 cans of chickpeas

2 tablespoon­s of sesame seeds

4 tablespoon­s of extra-virgin olive oil

200ml of full-fat, plain,

Greek-style yoghurt

3 tablespoon­s of coarsely chopped fresh mint

Salt on the table for individual final seasoning

Carefully brown the thighs, adding a tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet if the oil-za’atar mix is insufficie­nt. Let the chicken brown on both sides for a couple of minutes. Add the chopped garlic plus the drained chickpeas to the pan, and dust the chicken with the sesame seeds. Stick the pan and its contents into the oven to roast for five to eight minutes or until unambiguou­sly done.

Remove the filleted chicken thigh sections and reserve them under cover for later in the proceeding­s. Return the pan, its juices, garlic and chickpeas to the hot oven after stirring. Let them roast for a final 10 minutes or so.

4 Decant the yoghurt into a bowl, and with a fork, crush and coarsely mash half the cooked garlic and chickpeas into the yoghurt. Arrange the remaining half equally on each plate, with the cooked chicken thigh sections on top. Spoon equal portions of the yoghurt/ garlic/chickpea mixture over the plated chicken, then garnish with the freshly chopped mint. A memorable meal, believe me. • David Basckin is a freelance journalist and videograph­er. Email him at farmerswee­ Subject line: Real cooking.

 ??  ?? Styling: Nomvuselel­o Mncube Photo: Peter Whitfield
Styling: Nomvuselel­o Mncube Photo: Peter Whitfield

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