sabzi khordan with baked feta

sabzi khordan with baked feta

When we were in grad school in the Garden State, we lived in an apartment in Central Jersey with a decently sized back yard and easy access to community gardens, but for some reason, I decided to wait until moving to Hong Kong to take up gardening on our two-by-six-foot little balcony. I’d love to have a grape vine someday, and maybe some tomatoes, but until then, I’m really happy with the big potted herb planters I’ve got going. Or, I should say, the potted herbs I was growing, until flying back to the US to visit family and leaving little scraggly mint/parsley/basil stubs behind. The week before leaving, I went a little crazy trying to use them up. I dried some mint, put fresh basil in everything, made lots of mint tea, and made an absurd amount of dolma. At the end of the week, I still had a lot of mint and basil, so I did the best thing I could think to do: sabzi khordan! I’ll take any excuse to eat herbs by the fistful.

sabzi khordan with baked feta
sabzi khordan with baked feta

Sabzi khordan, a Persian classic, is simply a big plate of herbs and crunchy, fresh ingredients, which you can serve with feta and flatbread. It’s easy, stunning, and delicious all at the same time, and I’ve recently been throwing it on top of a big sheet pan of baked feta for a fun change of pace.

I don’t super reliably share Persian recipes on here, because it wasn’t the primary food I grew up with at home, and my mind usually goes to Iraqi and Syrian food first. And since many Assyrians are from Iran, this year I’ve been trying to include more Persian recipes. I’ve been off to an okay start, with my favorite date frittata, and Persian love cake-inspired pop tarts. And now I’m so excited to be sharing this one, because it’s one of my family’s favorites. It actually reminds me of the way my grandmother describes the masgouf restaurants in Baghdad. They’d bring the fish out with lots of herbs, scallions, and radishes, and you’d pile as much as you want on top of the grilled fish, squeeze it with some lemon juice, and dig in. In either case, the lesson is the same: eat herbs in heaps and piles, not in sprinkles.

sabzi khordan with baked feta
sabzi khordan with baked feta

sabzi khordan with baked feta

serves about 10 as an appetizer
active time: 10 minutes
total time: 20 minutes
feta roasting technique inspired by
Amanda Hesser at Food52
download a
PDF to print
for a vegan version, see my
whole roasted cauliflower

  • 12 oz piece of feta (340g)

  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half (300g)

  • Extra virgin olive oil

  • 2 teaspoons apricot preserves or honey

  • 1 bunch bunch basil, leaves only

  • 1 bunch cilantro, leaves and small stems only

  • 1 bunch watercress

  • 1 small bunch whole chives

  • 1 small handful mint leaves

  • 3 or 4 radishes, sliced

  • flatbread for serving

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F (205°C).

  2. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Blot the feta dry, and place in the center of the sheet pan. Coat the feta with a little olive oil. Coat the tomato halves in a little more oil, and place them around the feta, cut-side-up.

  3. Bake the feta and tomatoes for about 5 to 10 minutes, until the feta softens and starts to melt slightly. Remove from the oven and set it to broil. Brush the feta with the honey or apricot preserves (warm the preserves in the microwave for a few seconds if they aren’t thin enough to brush), and place under the broiler for a couple more minutes to brown the top (keep a very close eye on it—it may only take 1-2 minutes, depending on your oven).

  4. Remove from the oven once it’s warmed through and brown on top. Let it sit at room temperature until the pan is no longer extremely hot, but while the feta is still warm (about 3 minutes). Top the pan with the basil, cilantro, watercress, chives, mint, and radishes. Lightly drizzle the herbs with olive oil. Serve immediately with flatbread, and encourage guests to eat a big heaping pile of herbs with every little bite of feta and tomato.

Note on cook time: I’ve made this with a few different broilers, and they all work very differently. If your broiler is weak and you leave it in longer to compensate, it will become crumbly, and if you broil it less, it will be gooey and spreadable. Either way is delicious, just different. If your broiler runs cold, you might need to bake it longer to get enough caramelization, or you can pull it out before it caramelizes if you don’t want it to get crumbly. Use your discretion, and don’t sweat it too much. But don’t broil it longer than 5 minutes, even if it’s not caramelizing, or it will dry out too much.

Note on herbs: Feel free to substitute your favorite leafy herbs, like dill, fennel fronds, fenugreek leaves, parsley, scallions, or tarragon.

sabzi khordan with baked feta

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manakish za'atar variations

manakish

A few weeks ago, I flew to Phoenix to celebrate Christmas with my whole big family. We had so much fun playing giant Jenga, hiking, and eating a million delicious tacos. While I was in town, I also got to cook with one of my favorite Assyrian food bloggers, Lisa from Seven Spice Life. We spent the morning at her house making an epic manakish feast, with lahm bi ajeen, and a couple of delicious variations on manakish za’atar (AKA manousheh).

The classic manakish with olives, tomato, labneh, cucumber, and mint was inspired by a trip Lisa took to Jordan, and the California-style one was inspired by all our favorite ingredients (goat cheese, blistered tomatoes, arugula, avocado, and garlicky pickled radishes). We used some incredible za’atar from Lisa’s brother-in-law’s family in Lebanon, and everything was just so perfect.

I’ve got some photos and the recipe for the two manakish za’atar variations below, and Lisa was generous enough to direct and edit a video with all three manakish, including the lahm bi ajeen.

Here’s the base of the California-style one—Lisa had the idea to add the tomatoes and goat cheese to the pizza before baking, which was a stroke of brilliance!

Here’s the base of the California-style one—Lisa had the idea to add the tomatoes and goat cheese to the pizza before baking, which was a stroke of brilliance!

Here’s the labneh going onto the classic tomato, cucumber, and olive manakish za’atar. I love the way the za’atar swirls with the labneh a little, and all the flavors meld together.

Here’s the labneh going onto the classic tomato, cucumber, and olive manakish za’atar. I love the way the za’atar swirls with the labneh a little, and all the flavors meld together.

And now for the toppings!

And now for the toppings!

After the labneh and veggies, on goes the mint chiffonade.

After the labneh and veggies, on goes the mint chiffonade.

How have I never had lahm bi ajeen with lemon before?

How have I never had lahm bi ajeen with lemon before?

It’s a revelation.

It’s a revelation.

Here’s Lisa! We had so much fun talking for hours about family, food, travel, and our mutual love of castelvetrano olives.

Here’s Lisa! We had so much fun talking for hours about family, food, travel, and our mutual love of castelvetrano olives.

Collaboration is such a wonderful thing!

Collaboration is such a wonderful thing!

Thanks Lisa for taking these photos of me!

Thanks Lisa for taking these photos of me!

You can see one of Lisa’s pups running by in the background <3

You can see one of Lisa’s pups running by in the background <3

Lisa made these wonderful pickled radishes, with lots of garlic and zesty flavors. Any kind of pickled veggie would work wonderfully here, but the radishes were just the thing.

Lisa made these wonderful pickled radishes, with lots of garlic and zesty flavors. Any kind of pickled veggie would work wonderfully here, but the radishes were just the thing.

above: classic manakish with olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, labneh, and mint chiffonade below: california-style manakish with goat cheese, blistered tomato, arugula, avocado, pickled radishes or onions, and a little more extra virgin olive oil.

above: classic manakish with olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, labneh, and mint chiffonade
below: california-style manakish with goat cheese, blistered tomato, arugula, avocado, pickled radishes or onions, and a little more extra virgin olive oil.

manakish za’atar variations

manakish za’atar base

yield: 4 small manakish
download a PDF to print

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons za'atar *

  • Salt, to taste (about 1/4 teaspoon)

  • 1 pound pizza dough

  • Semolina or cornmeal, for sprinkling

  1. Place a pizza stone (or sheet pan) on the oven floor, move the oven racks up and out of the way, so you can easily access the pizza stone, and pre-heat the oven to 500° F.

  2. Combine the olive oil and za'atar. Salt it to taste if you're using unseasoned za'atar.

  3. Lightly flour a clean, food-safe work surface, use a knife or bench scraper to divide the dough into 4 equal pieces, and shape each chunk into a round ball.

  4. Roll each dough ball into a circle, about 1/8 inch thick. To keep the round shape, rotate the disc about 90 degrees after each time you roll it out, and be sure to re-flour the surface every so often.

  5. Sprinkle semolina or cornmeal on a pizza peel or thin cutting board. Place one dough disc on the cutting board. Top with about 1/4 of the za'atar mixture (about a heaping tablespoon) and spread it out using your fingers or the back of a spoon. Top with 1/4 cup of feta cheese, if using. Let it rest for about 5 to 10 minutes before it goes in the oven.

  6. Once the oven has preheated, use a quick motion to move the pie from the pizza peel onto the pizza stone. Cook for about 5-8 minutes, until the edges start to brown and the bread is cooked through. The dough should be crispy and chewy, like really good brick oven pizza.

  7. Repeat with the remaining 3 pies.

california-style manakish za’atar

cherry tomatoes + goat cheese + lightly dressed arugula + avocado + pickled radishes/onions + olive oil

Add a few halved cherry tomatoes and a handful of goat cheese crumbles to the manakish za’atar base after the za’atar oil goes on. Bake as usual, until the pizza is cooked through, the goat cheese is melted, and the tomatoes are slightly charred or blistered. Once it comes out of the oven, top with arugula (dressed lightly with oil and vinegar), avocado, pickled radishes or onions, and a little more extra virgin olive oil.

classic manakish za’atar

labneh + olives + cherry tomatoes + Persian cucumbers + mint + olive oil

Bake the manakish za’atar base as the original recipe suggests. Top with labneh, halved olives, quartered cherry tomatoes, large-diced Persian cucumbers, a few sprigs of mint chiffonade, and some more extra virgin olive oil.

manakish