Za’atar: the Herbal Mix Missing from Grocery Stores

I first encountered za’atar, a Middle Eastern herb and sesame seed mix, in Israel while visiting a Kibbutz 12 years. The herbal mix was sprinkled into olive oil, or yogurt (labneh) to dip bread in. I had never seen some of the herbs in it in grocery stores, like sumac and hyssop. I just thought of sumac as poison sumac and didn’t know of the non-poisonous variety until then. Hyssop is nearly impossible to find, because it is labeled as an endangered plant. So I nearly forgot about Za’atar until I encountered it again at a food allergy friendly, Syrian cafe, Aissa Sweets, in Concord, NH. They sold za’atar rolls and za’atar cheese wraps, that were absolutely delicious.

The sumac gives the mix a of herbs and sesame seeds a tangy flavor different than the traditional herbs found in American supermarkets. Recipes to make za’atar are available on the internet. There are a lot of variations on the herbs that can be included in the mix. Since hyssop is not available, thyme is a common ingredient. Some recipes include cumin, and many have oregano. Sumac and sesame seeds really make the za’atar more authentic.

If you don’t want to make it from scratch, za’atar can be found in Middle Eastern grocery stores, Cost Plus World Market, Penzey’s Spices, and in online stores like Amazon.com. However, some versions look like they may not be as authentic tasting as others, because sumac is not listed in the ingredients. There were two versions sold at Cost Plus World Market. One said it had thyme and other spices in it. The one in the ziploc bag had the sumac listed in the ingredients.

In addition to dipping bread in za’atar and olive oil or labneh. The herbal mix is great to cook with. It is easy to make a za’atar bread by substituting za’atar for other herbs. I like using the Rosemary bread recipe for my bread machine. Instead of Rosemary, I substitute the same amount of Za’atar.

Because sumac is tangy, it goes well with other sour flavors like lemon and feta cheese. You can easily make something similar to Aissa Sweets’ wrap at home by mixing mozzarella cheese and feta cheese with za’atar and placing the mix on top of a pizza crust, or inside a wrap. Pizza crust without soy can be found at Target, Walmart, and other grocery stores. I have even found an uncooked pizza dough in the biscuit section that I was able to use to make an appetizer like cheese stuffed triangles. Phyllo dough frequently is made without soy, too. You can try making a dish with za’atar like lasagna, a calzone, bureka, Tiropita, or other cheese pies. If you can’t eat cheese, you can also sprinkle it on top of a pizza crust to make a Foccacia bread.

Za’atar is commonly used in a roasted chicken recipe with lemon. Here’s a great recipe for grilled za’atar chicken that works well for baking or roasting the chicken, too.

https://thelemonbowl.com/zaatar-spiced-grilled-chicken/

 

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Categories: Blog Posts, Recipes

Sun Butter Corn Bread

Here’s my latest Sun Butter experiment, in which I altered an existed eggless Almond Butter Bread recipe. This is an eggless corn bread recipe. Feel free to substitute any nut butter or pea butter for the Sun Butter.

Sun Butter Corn Bread

2 c. Corn meal

1 t. Baking soda

1/2 t. salt

1/3 c. Sugar

1 1/2 c. Milk or Milk alternative

1/2 c. Sun Butter

 

1 t. cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 325 F. Combine all of the ingredients. Mix it thoroughly. Greasing the pan isn’t necessary, but you can do so if you’d like. Spread the dough out evenly into an 8 X 8 or 9 X 9 square pan. Cook it for 40 minutes. Let it cool before cutting. (My oven cooks a bit hotter, so the temperature may vary depending on the oven.)

Categories: Blog Posts, Recipes

Matzah Sun Butter Bars

In a previous blog post, I wrote about experimenting with the alteration of recipes to suit your allergies or turn a boring cake recipe into an interesting one. Passover is a great time for experimenting with recipes. Restricting yourself to baking with matzah meal, while having food allergies, does not have to be a dreaded occasion. One of the most difficult allergies to bake for during Passover is an egg allergy. Except for the fruit slices and jelly rings, most baked goods are mixed with egg to hold the matzah or coconut together. Flourless cakes, made only with egg are common at the seder table. However, substituting matzah cake meal (or matzah meal if they don’t sell the cake meal at your grocery store) for the flour in eggless recipes that use Sun Butter or Nut Butter can produce a suitable desert or breakfast bar. This recipe was based on an eggless almond bread recipe. This recipe can be altered to your taste by changing the extract, adding nuts, quinoa, chocolate chips, raisins, or even spreading a date or fig spread between two layers. This dough would be great as a Fig Newton substitute with a fruit spread between the two layers.

Matzah Sun Butter Bars

2 c. Matzah Cake Meal or Matzah Meal

1 t. Salt

1/3 c. Sugar

1 1/2 c. Milk or Milk alternative

1/2 c. Sun Butter

3/4 t. Cinnamon

1/2 t. Allspice

1/2 t. Nutmeg

1/2 t. Orange extract

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Combine all of the ingredients. Mix it thoroughly. Greasing the pan isn’t necessary, but you can do so if you’d like. Spread the dough out evenly into an 8 X 8 pan. Cook it for 30 minutes. Let it cool before cutting it into bars.

Customizing Your Cake

Using extracts to customize your cake flavor is an excellent way to have fun and improve the basic food allergy friendly cake, scone, or quick bread recipes. Just 1/2 t. of an extract will go along way to turn a boring chocolate cake recipe into a mint, orange, or raspberry cake. Adding orange extract to a pumpkin bread recipe makes an excellent bread even more interesting. Here are two vegan and food allergy friendly cake recipes that I found on the Internet and altered. I have them turned into tropical drink flavored cakes by adding orange extract.

Vegan Chocolate Coconut Orange Cake

 

2 c. All purpose flour

½ c. Cocoa powder

1 ¾ t. Baking powder

1 t. Baking Soda

1 c. Coconut milk

6 T Canola oil

1 ½ c. Maple syrup or generic syrup

1 t. Orange extract

1 t. Vanilla extract

½ t. Salt

 

The recipe can fit in two 8” or 9” pans for a layer cake, or one 9” x 13” pan. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the pans. Into a large bowl, sift the flour and add the dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients. Thoroughly mix the ingredients together until there are no lumps left. Pour the ingredients into the pans. Cook for 30 min. or until done. Frost the cake with your favorite frosting recipe, or serve it without frosting.

 

Vegan Chocolate Banana Orange Cake

 

2 c. All purpose flour

1 1/3 c. Sugar

2/3 c. Cocoa powder

1 ½ t. Baking soda

¼ c. Canola oil

1 ½ c. water

1 t. Vanilla extract

1 t. Orange extract

1 c. Mashed banana

 

The recipe can fit in two 8” or 9” pans for a layer cake, or one 9” x 13” pan. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the pans. Into a large bowl, sift the flour and add in the dry ingredients. Mash the banana and add it to the bowl. Add the wet ingredients to the bowl. Thoroughly mix the ingredients together until there are no lumps left. Pour the ingredients into the pans. Cook for 30 min. or until done. Frost the cake with your favorite frosting recipe, or serve it without frosting.

 

Categories: Blog Posts, Recipes

High Protein Stuffing

If your friends and family are like mine, then you know how difficult it is to make a dish for holiday potlucks like Thanksgiving that will meet everyone’s dietary restrictions. At any potluck I have attended, dietary restrictions may include food allergies to soy, nuts, egg and dairy, vegetarians, vegans, diabetes, those attempting low carb diets to lose weight, and some that try to keep Kosher. Here’s a winning stuffing recipe for any potluck which will meet many of the needs of those with dietary restrictions that you may encounter.

It can be difficult to find soy free bread products in the store. However, some of the organic brands of stuffing are soy free. Arrowhead Mills is the brand that is the easiest for me to find at my local food co-op and at Whole Foods Market. Whole Foods Market probably has other options to choose from that are also soy free. If you need to make a gluten free stuffing, try making a corn bread stuffing recipe.

1 bag of Arrowhead Mills Organic Stuffing

1 c. chopped onion

1 c. roasted or fresh carrots

1 c. zucchini or other preferred fresh or roasted vegetable

1 c. quinoa

olive oil

vegetable broth

2 c. water

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Roast carrots and other chosen vegetables at 400 degrees for 40 min. It is best to coat the vegetables in 1 t. of olive oil before roasting. After 20 min. stir the vegetables around and put them back in the oven.

Follow the directions on the bag of stuffing for browning the onions in oil. Add the vegetable broth and bring it to a boil. Turn off the heat and stir the stuffing and roasted vegetables into the broth.

In a separate pan, add 1 c. quinoa to 2 c. water. Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat to the lowest temperature. Cook it on low until the water has been absorbed and the quinoa is translucent. Then stir the quinoa into the stuffing.

This is such a large recipe, that you will want to transfer the stuffing to a large casserole dish, soup pot, or casserole dish sized plastic container to be able to stir the quinoa into the stuffing and transport it to the potluck. If you are going to a potluck at work, you can put the stuffing in a crock pot so that it is easy to heat up without an oven.

Sunflower Seeds for Food Allergy Sufferers

helianthus_annuus_0001Being allergic to tree nuts, peanuts, and soy, I have been somewhat scared to try to eat a lot of seeds. Sesame seeds and poppy seeds are commonly on breads, and I have eaten those without a problem. However, trying new foods, like different types of nuts, has caused allergic reactions, so I have previously stayed away from eating seeds.

Over the last ten years I have seen an increase in the number of flax seeds and sunflower seeds in foods marketed to people with soy, nut, and dairy allergies. The first time that I found chicken nuggets marketed for food allergy sufferers with flax in it, I was shocked. I just could not believe that they would think that we would not be allergic to it. When I questioned the company, they said that allergic reactions to flax are rare. So I tried the chicken nuggets, and did not have an allergic reaction to them.

Recently, members of a food allergy discussion group on Facebook, Allergy Friendly Recipe Exchange, have posted recipes that included Sunbutter, a sunflower butter, which can be used as a peanut butter or nut butter substitute. I had not even thought to try sunflower products before out of fear. The members of the group responded that their children were allergic to peanuts, soy, and tree nuts, but were not allergic to sunflower seeds.

Now that I had seen the testimonies of people with food allergies to soy who regularly eat sunflower products like Sunbutter, I decided to give sunflower products a try myself. After researching the nutritional value of sunflower seeds and the availability of soy free and nut free sunflower products available in grocery stores, I was convinced that it would be a good addition to my diet if I found a product that I liked.

A website on the nutritional qualities of sunflower seeds says that allergies to sunflower seeds are rare, but can occur. Those that are allergic to more foods than the Big 8 Allergens, have reported being allergic to sunflower seeds. By including sunflower seeds in our diets, we could greatly increase the nutritional value of necessary nutrients that come from food instead of vitamins. Sunflower seeds are high in protein, anti-oxidants, vitamin E, B vitamins, Folic Acid, minerals, Potassium, fiber, and other important nutrients. The site states that a serving of sunflower seeds provides one with the recommended daily amount of several nutrients and a large amount of the recommended daily value of many other nutrients. While having food allergies can make it difficult to consume the daily recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals from plant based nutrients, sunflower seeds has the power to improve ones diet.

Sunflower seed products can be found in a variety of forms, without soy or peanuts as an ingredient. The seeds can be purchased in the shell, or without the shell as kernels. Sunflower kernels are sold as raw seeds or roasted, with or without salt and seasonings. Some roasted seeds have been roasted in a soy or peanut based oil, while others are roasted in sunflower oil or canola oil. One needs to be cautious about buying raw seeds, because they can become rancid and moldy quickly. Seeds are an excellent addition to a salad. Unsalted seeds can be added to bread, cookies, granola or even Pesto sauce. Sunflower oil can be found in more and more snack products, especially those that can be found in the all-natural and organic sections of grocery stores. This is an excellent plain tasting oil to cook with instead of vegetable oil or Canola oil. Sunbutter can be found as an ingredient in two Enjoy Life bars. However, one can easily substitute Sunbutter for peanut butter or any type of nut butter used in a recipe to make one’s own cookies, breads, bars, Granolas, or sauces. Sunflower kernels can also be found in packages of granola or snacks. Although I could find Somersaults in very few stores and did not like all of their flavors, the cinnamon flavor became one of my favorites.

While Sunbutter’s website has plenty of recipes to try, I had fun trying to substitute sunflower products for other ingredients in existing recipes. This Eggless Almond Butter recipe works very well with Sunbutter instead of almond butter. Adding cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice, or pumpkin pie spice greatly improves the flavor.

Roasted unsalted sunflower seeds, which can be found at Whole Foods Market, make an excellent addition to roasted vegetables. Try roasting potatoes, carrots, zucchini, and or other vegetables. At the halfway point, add the sunflower seeds when you stir the vegetables in the pan. I love to roast the vegetables with olive oil, rosemary and salt. After the vegetables are finished you can add other vegetables to the mix that don’t roast well at high temperatures like peas or broccoli. Sunflower seeds work well in stir fry or adding a handful to vegetables that will be cooked in the microwave, too.

By altering a Banana Bread recipe, I came up with a recipe for Banana Sunbutter Blonde Brownies.

Banana Sunbutter Blonde Brownies

2 c. All-Purpose Flour

3/4 c. Sugar

1/4 c. Melted Butter or Margarine

1 c. Mashed Bananas (about 2 bananas)

3/4 c. Sunbutter

1 t. Vanilla

1/2 t. Cinnamon (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix all of the ingredients together. Grease a 8X8 or 9X9 square pan. Add cinnamon to the mix and/or sprinkle some on top. Cook it for 30 minutes.

I hope you have fun trying something new!

Eating Kitniyot for Passover

I have been so busy, that it has actually been 3 years since I posted my last blog post. However, Passover is such a difficult time for people with food allergies that I got excited when I heard that the Conservative denomination of Judaism has decided that it is time to stop the ban on kitniyot for Passover.

I have always felt that because I have food allergies, it was best to follow the Sephardic dietary restrictions for Passover that do not ban kitniyot. I have even seen Canola oil on a list of kitniyot because it is from the rapeseed. I have always felt that it was wrong to ban it for Passover while Quinoa is allowed.

Check out this article from the Forward: http://forward.com/culture/food/338525/conservative-movement-overturns-800-year-old-passover-ban-on-rice-and-legum/

Matzah can be so unappetizing that it can be difficult to eat it for a week without resorting to leavened bread. However, I have recently found another eggless matzah brei recipe that is quite tasty. The previous recipe that I found used cranberries in the ingredients can be found in a prior blog post.

Banana Matzah Brei

1-2 Matzahs
Milk, Juice, Wine or Water
1-2 Bananas
Butter or margarine
Cinnamon

Crumble the matzah and place it in a bowl. Cover it with your choice of liquid, and let it sit for awhile to soften a bit. I like using milk. Mash the bananas in a bowl. Stir the matzah and cinnamon into the mashed banana with a couple of spoons of liquid, but not all of it. Fry the Matzah Brei in butter.

Categories: Passover, Recipes
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