They say you recognise soulmates from past lives by their smell. A hint of something familiar, alluring, attractive or comfortable caresses your nostrils, the earth moves and you remember. For the past week I had the flu and my sense of smell (and taste) deserted me. I spilled half a bottle of tea tree oil on the floor and could smell nothing- no smell, nothing at all. I could have met a thousand soulmates and passed them by without a clue. So you can imagine that eating food was nothing like what it should have been either: salty, bitter, sour, sweet but nothing in between. What a strange world it is without smells, happily removed from and oblivious to the stinky things in life, but isolated from the pleasures that smell brings without really knowing it. Anyway my sense of smell is back and the richness of life awaits.
Za'atar is a herb mixture from the Middle east which is used to flavour kebabs, chicken, fetta cheese and more. However I know it best as the distinctive aromatic topping on Middle eastern herb bread. Za'atar lends piquancy and a herby aroma to the bread and it is very addictive. You have to love anything that starts with a Z don't you?
Soumak is the only ingredient which might be unknown to you. Well perhaps you might know it as the tangy red speckles on Arnott's barbecue shapes. It is a crimson red powder with a sharp lemony tang and is available at the Queen Vic market or at middle eastern grocers.
Za'atar Herb Mix
15 grams Sesame seeds toasted
35 grams Soumak powder
10 grams Oregano
10 grams Marjoram
10 grams Thyme
1 teaspoon Seasalt
For za'atar you will need to toast the sesame seeds in a dry frying-pan on the stove. The Thermomix isn't set up to cook at such high heat because of the damage this does to the food, but despite the damage, toasted seeds do taste very nice. Put the seeds in a cold pan and place over high heat, agitating the pan constantly to brown the contents without burning. When the seeds are toasted to a light brown remove them to the Thermomix bowl immediately to prevent burning.
Empty your packets of herbs and the salt into the Thermomix bowl. I actually used packets of herbs that weighed 8 grams and didn't fuss about finding the extra 2 grams.
Pulverise all of the ingredients on speed 10 for 30 seconds or until you have a fine powder.
Pour your za'atar powder into a screw top jar.
Za'atar Focaccia Bread
I followed the recipe from the Australian Thermomix Cookbook, but I did find I needed to add quite a bit of extra flour because the dough was sticky.
200 g boiled water
200g cold water
1 sachet of dry yeast
20g olive oil
500g white bakers flour
Pinch of salt
Place water in the Thermomix bowl add the oil then the yeast. Mix for 5 seconds on speed 6
Add flour and salt and mix for 20 seconds on speed 6
Set dial to closed lid position and knead for 2 minutes on interval speed
Add extra flour as the dough kneads if it feels sticky.
Remove dough from the Thermomix and leave covered in a warm place for up to 1 hour to rise.
After an hour take a large sheet of silicone baking paper and on it stretch your dough into an A4 sized rectangle.
Dip your fingers in flour to stop them sticking and press all eight fingers into the dough to make a line of indentations without going all the way through. Repeat until the entire rectangle is covered in indentations.
Fold the dough in half, stretch out to an A4 sized rectangle again and repeat the indentation process.
Repeat two or three times and then leave the A4 sized rectangle with indentations covered with a teatowel or gladwrap to rise for another 30 minutes. Preheat your oven to 220˚ C
Sprinkle the dough heavily with your za'atar powder and drizzle liberally with olive oil, don't hold back, the herb powder needs to be moist with the oil.
Bake for 20-30 minutes or until golden brown.
We made tuna, rocquette, red capsicum and parmesan cheese sandwiches with this bread and they were magnificent.