There’s nothing like faraway travel to breathe new life into your cooking. A voyage can inspire new cravings, introduce exotic spices, or even change your whole way of thinking about food. Recently, an epic Spring Break trip to Israel and Paris has really stirred things up here in the Farmgirl kitchen.
Take breakfast, for example. I pride myself on making something new and exciting for the family every morning — sprouted grain French toast, frittatas oozing with cheese and vegetables, matzah brei, and homemade granola are some of my go-to’s. But who knew salad was good for breakfast?
The Israelis do. In fact, during our week in Jerusalem, this salad showed up on the table at practically every meal. It’s delightfully minimalist, which means you want to find the best quality ingredients possible. Zatar (also spelled zahtar and za’atar) is an addictive mixture of thyme, sumac, and sesame seeds (some brands also contain marjoram, savory, orange peel, nigella seeds and hyssop). Once you try it, you will likely sprinkle it liberally on everything from soups to protein, even your morning bagel.
Where are you going to find good juicy tomatoes this side of summer? Try your local farmers market. On our coast, unseasonably warm weather has brought Spring tomatoes, the best ones grown hydroponically and organically. But if you can’t find them just yet, substitute slices of avocado, Persian cucumbers, hearts of palm, persimmon, asparagus…or sun-dried tomatoes.
It’s a perfect salad for entertaining on a large or small scale, for any meal of the day. But I recommend trying it for breakfast.
Serves 4-6 as a side salad
4 large organic tomatoes (about 1-1/4 pounds), as ripe and juicy as can be
1/2 onion, red or white (optional)
4 ounces sheep’s milk feta cheese
Your best quality extra virgin olive oil
1/2 juicy lemon
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon zahtar
Optional additions: slices of cucumber or avocado slices, pitted olives, fresh basil
1. Using a very sharp knife (this one is my new favorite), slice the tomatoes about 1/4-inch thick and arrange on a large round serving platter in overlapping circles.
2. Grate the cheese on a box grater in a mound over the tomatoes. Now drizzle with a glug of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon (catch the seeds in your hand).
3. Finally, sprinkle the tomatoes generously with salt and pepper, and dust the tomatoes and cheese with plenty of zatar.
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Photo credit: Kimberley Hasselbrink