Tendli Zaatar (Ivy Gourd Zaatar)

Every time I visit Johannesburg, I have to stop at Beirut, a family owned Lebanese restaurant for a meal. But this time I had a hidden agenda; to get the Zaatar they use in their recipes. Maumood, the man behind Beirut’s kitchen, is a man of few words and speaks broken English. What’s amazing is, the language barrier did not deter us from having a conversation because it was around food. We managed to discuss from kebabs to Ksara [Lebanese wine, probably better than many French wineswink emoticon ] in that 2 hours I was there. They also sell condiments imported from Lebanon which also include the Zaatar, but it’s a 500 gram packet. I am sure they don’t use the same in their kitchen so I decided to shamelessly ask Maumood for some, for which he obliged but not the recipe.

Zaatar, like our Garam masala, varies from cultures to cultures across the Arabian world and some guard the ingredients secret for many generations. Though the name ‘Zaatar’ stands for ‘Lebanese Oregano’, which is the main ingredient in the condiment. It’s usually prepared with Oregano, sesame seeds, dried Sumac (a reddish fruit found on a shrub) and salt as the base. Depending on the regions they also add cumin, coriander or fennel to make it savory. It is used as a spread on the pita bread with olive oil and also used on meats and vegetables for flavoring. It is available in most major supermarkets in India.

I have been experimenting with Arab spices on various vegetables that are found in India and what I found is ‘Tendli’ (Ivy Gourd in English) is a good candidate [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coccinia_grandis] with its unique texture and slight bitter and nutty flavor. So this recipe is simple and can be also tried with baby Aubergines, gherkins or zucchini.
Tendli Zaatar (Ivy Gourd Zaatar)

12 medium sized Tendli
1 medium sized onion finely chopped
2 cloves garlic crushed
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped parsley divided in to 2 
1 ½ teaspoon Zaatar

Slit the Tendlis in to quarters without splitting it (See the pic) and put it in 500ml boiling water with 2 table spoon of salt for 4-5 mins. Take it out and put it in cold water for 5 mins, strain it and keep it aside. In a heavy bottomed pan, add the olive oil, on medium heat then add the garlic and onion until transparent and then add the tomato paste and cook it until the oil starts splitting from the tomato paste. Increase the heat to high and then add half the pasely and the Tendli and sauté itfor 3-4 mins until the spices are evenly coated on the tendli. Then add the Zaatar in the end and serve with sprinkling the rest of the parsley.

Categories: Travel Cuisine

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