Throughout the Middle East, cooks rely on copious use of spices and other powerful pantry ingredients—with an eye toward contrasting textures just as much as bold flavor. With that in mind, we create a Middle Eastern menu starring crispy chicken cutlets seasoned with za’atar, a fragrant, earthy spice blend spiked with lemony sumac and nutty sesame seeds. Coarsely ground cumin and coriander seeds lend texture and flavor to chunks of broiled eggplant, which we top with spicy harissa and lighten with fresh mint and dill. And adding yogurt and honey to a whole-wheat dough gives us tender, tangy flatbreads in only 40 minutes.
Za’atar Chicken Cutlets and Lemon-Parsley Salad
Makes 4 servings
This chicken is just as good at room temperature as it is hot. Mixing the za’atar with flour helps the crust adhere to the chicken. While we love tart, smoky Aleppo pepper, a few pinches of paprika and cayenne are a good substitute. Aleppo varies in heat; if yours is mild, supplement with a pinch of cayenne.
Boneless, skinless chicken cutlets are ideal for fast cooking and are widely available. If you substitute chicken breasts, pound the meat first; use a meat mallet or heavy skillet to flatten them to an even ¼-inch thick.
1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast cutlets (4 cutlets), pounded to ¼-inch thickness
¼ cup plus 1 teaspoon za’atar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon Aleppo pepper
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
¾ cup lightly packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 scallions, thinly sliced on a bias
½ teaspoon lemon zest, plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
3 tablespoons finely chopped walnuts
Season the chicken all over with 1½ teaspoons of salt. In a wide, shallow dish, combine ¼ cup of the za’atar, the flour, and the Aleppo pepper. In a 12-inch stainless-steel skillet over medium-high heat, add 2 tablespoons of the oil and heat until shimmering. One cutlet at a time, transfer the chicken to the za’atar mixture, coating and pressing all sides. Add the cutlets to the pan and cook for about 3 minutes per side, or until well browned. Transfer to a platter.
In a medium bowl, combine the parsley, scallions, lemon zest and juice, the remaining 1 teaspoon of oil, and a pinch of salt. Toss to coat. Drizzle the molasses evenly over the chicken, then mound the greens over the cutlets. Sprinkle with walnuts and the remaining za’atar.
Spicy Egyptian Eggplant With Fresh Herbs
Makes 4 servings
This is an oven-friendly version of a dish typically deep-fried by street vendors in Cairo. Because broilers vary in heat output, check the eggplant for doneness after 10 minutes. For the same reason, it also may need longer than called for. The pieces should be tender and lightly charred, but not falling apart.
Harissa is a North African red pepper paste seasoned with spices and other ingredients; our favorite brand is DEA, which usually is sold in a yellow tube.
Don’t allow the eggplant to cool before tossing it with the harissa mixture. As the chunks cool, they absorb the flavorings. Allow the mixture to stand for at least 10 minutes before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature.
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
2 1-pound globe or Italian eggplants, trimmed
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup harissa paste
¼ cup cider vinegar
3 tablespoons honey
1 medium garlic clove, finely grated
¼ cup finely chopped fresh mint
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill, divided
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
In a small skillet over medium heat, toast the coriander and cumin, shaking the pan, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a spice grinder and let cool slightly, then pulse until coarsely ground; set aside.
Set the oven to broil with a rack 6 inches from the element. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and mist with cooking spray. Cut each eggplant crosswise into 1½-inch-thick rounds, then cut each round into 1½-inch cubes. In a large bowl, toss the eggplant with the oil to coat. Distribute in an even layer on the prepared baking sheet; reserve the bowl. Broil, without stirring, until tender and lightly charred on top, 10 to 12 minutes.
Meanwhile, in the reserved bowl, whisk together the harissa, vinegar, honey, garlic, mint, 2 tablespoons of the dill, and the coriander and cumin. When the eggplant is done, immediately add it to the bowl, then gently toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper if necessary. Let stand for 10 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon dill.
Yogurt Flatbreads With Flavored Butters
Makes 6 flatbreads
Bread flour gives these flatbreads pleasant chew, but you can substitute an equal amount of all-purpose flour. If you do use all-purpose, you will likely have to add a couple extra tablespoons of flour during kneading because the dough will be slightly wetter. You’ll need a 12-inch cast-iron skillet; a 10-inch cast-iron skillet can work, too, but there will be a little less room for maneuvering the rounds when flipping.
Be careful not to leave any floury bits in the bowl during mixing—all the flour must be incorporated so that the dough isn’t too sticky to work with. Don’t overflour the counter when rolling out the rounds; excess flour will scorch in the skillet.
We like serving these with flavored butters — including garlic-herb, za’atar, and harissa.
1½ cups (206 grams) bread flour, plus more for dusting
¼ cup (35 grams) whole-wheat flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
¾ cup plain whole-milk yogurt
2 teaspoons honey
3 tablespoons salted or flavored butter (see following), melted
In a large bowl, stir together both flours, the salt, and the baking powder. Add the yogurt and honey and stir until a shaggy dough forms. Using your hands, knead in the bowl until the dough forms a cohesive ball, incorporating any dry bits; the dough will be slightly sticky.
Turn the dough out onto a counter dusted with bread flour and continue kneading until the dough is tacky instead of sticky, about 1 minute. The finished dough may appear slightly lumpy; this is fine. Divide into 6 pieces and shape each into a ball. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat a 12-inch cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat.
On a lightly floured counter, roll each ball into an 8-inch circle. Place one dough round in the heated skillet and cook until the bottom is a dark spotty brown, 1 to 1½ minutes. Using tongs, flip the round and cook the second side until dark spotty brown, about 1 minute. Transfer to a wire rack, flipping so the first side to cook faces down, then brush with butter. Repeat with the remaining dough rounds. Serve immediately.
For garlic-herb butter
Combine 3 tablespoons salted butter and 1 grated garlic clove in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until the garlic is just beginning to color, about 30 seconds. Off the heat, add 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill, 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro, tarragon, or basil, and a pinch of salt.
For za’atar butter
Combine 3 tablespoons salted butter and 1 tablespoon za’atar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook until the butter is bubbling and the seeds are just beginning to color, about 30 seconds.
For harissa butter
Melt 3 tablespoons salted butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Off the heat, stir in 1 tablespoon harissa.
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