Thursday, November 03, 2022

Enjoying Za'atar

One of the joys of cooking is trying different things...different cooking techniques, different ingredients, different combinations and more.

Last night I was having trouble getting to sleep so I rummaged through a box of old magazines and found the April 2019 issue of Bon Appetit magazine. In it I found a recipe using chicken, greek yogurt, red onions, garlic, and a spice mix called za'atar. Za'atar is a blend of sumac, dried herbs and sesame seeds and is used in Middle Eastern cooking. I have a jar from Penzey's spices which I've used once or twice before, but this recipe sounded like it really showcased the za'atar. Something different! Of course I may have made this before and forgotten all about memory sometimes more closely resembles my years and not my appearance.

It's a fairly easy recipe and most of the work is done by the oven over a period of 1 hour, 15 minutes or so. The recipe as written serves four. I changed it slightly by using three boneless, skinless chicken thighs instead of the four whole chicken legs, so we got three servings. I also served directly to plates, so that made it harder to estimate the amount of the yogurt sauce to put on the plate. It also meant that I only needed to roast the chicken for the original 50-60 minutes...with no bones it cooks faster and with no skin it doesn't need to brown up.

Be sure to choose a nice fat head of garlic or will be cutting two in half and cooking it with the chicken. If you love roasted garlic cloves as much as Sweetie and I do you will be making this recipe again! There are some lovely pan juices, too, plus garlic-infused plain Greek yogurt, so naan or a baguette or similar bread to wipe up juices and yogurt adds to the fun and delight.

I don't think that the roasted lemon quarters added much, but the citrus zest in the za'atar sauce was essential to the success of the dish, so don't skip putting in both kinds of zest.

This is a lovely dish to serve for company who love garlic since you spread the yogurt on a platter, top with the chicken, scatter the cooked onions and garlic cloves around and top with the zesty za'atar looks so appealing and tastes wonderful!

Za'atar Chicken with Garlicky Yogurt 

Serves 4
From April 2019 Bon Appetit magazine

4 chicken legs (thighs and drumstick; about 2 1/2 lbs. total)
2 medium red onions, cut into 1-inch thick wedges
2 heads of garlic, halved crosswise, plus 2 cloves
1 lemon, quartered, seeds removed
Kosher salt
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
3 tablespoons za'atar
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest

Preheat oven to 325 degree F. Pat chicken legs dry with paper towels.  (If desired, cut into drumstick and thigh pieces for each leg.) Season chicken with salt. Lightly oil bottom of pan. Arrange chicken, onions, halved garlic heads, and lemon in a 13 x 9-inch baking pan. Pour in rest of oil over ingredients and toss as necessary to coat. urn garlic cut side down and nestle it in so it is in contact with the baking dish.

Roast, rotating pan halfway through, until meat is almost falling off the bone, 50-60 minutes.

Meanwhile, finely grate 1 garlic clove into a small bowl. Add yogurt, a big pinch of salt and 1 tablespoon water and mix well. Set aside yogurt sauce.

Remove baking dish from oven and transfer onions, garlic, and lemon to a plate. Increase oven temperature to 425 degrees F and continue to roast chicken until skin is golden brown, 10-15 minutes more. Transfer chicken to a cutting board and let rest 10 minutes. Set aside pan with juices.

Finely grate remaining 1 clove garlic into another small bowl. Add za'atar, coriander, lemon zest, lime zest. Pour reserved pan juices into za'atar mixture until you've reached an oily consistency (about 1/3 cup). Mix in a pinch of salt.

Spread reserved yogurt sauce over a platter and arrange chicken legs on top. Scatter onions, garlic, and lemon around; drizzle with za'atar oil and serve.


  1. I got a za'atar blend about six million years ago in Seattle, and I don't think my blend had sumac in it -- or else if it did, it had very little. I'm surprised you had to put citrus in this; I thought sumac was supposed to be very sour? In any event, I clearly need to look for new Za'atar (I'm so envious of your Penzey's, heard SO many good things about that place), and give it another shot on non-bird chicken. ☺

  2. There is sumac in the blend, but not a lot, so the lemon is a really good addition but it doesn't really provide that much flavor unless you squeeze it over the served chicken. I think the next time I might just add lemon zest to the yogurt mixture and skip roasting the lemon quarters.
    Penzey spices are excellent...and they do mail order.