These chicken nuggets are crisp and dry, as opposed to greasy, with a subtle blend of flavors. If you want more heat, add Korean or spicy pepper powder.
2 cups plain yogurt
4 tablespoons Za’atar Spice (recipe follows)
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
10 to 16 ounces boneless skinless chicken breast halves, cut into 2- to 3-inch chunks
Vegetable oil for frying
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cornstarch
1. Mix the yogurt with 2 tablespoons of the za’atar, 2 teaspoons salt, the red pepper flakes, and the lemon zest and juice. Rub the chicken pieces with the mixture and marinate overnight in the refrigerator.
2. In a medium skillet, pour in oil to a depth of 1 inch and heat over high heat. Mix the flour and cornstarch together. Coat the chicken pieces with the flour mixture, shaking off the excess. Test the temperature by dropping a piece of chicken into the oil. It should sizzle. Fry the chicken in batches, turning once, for about 4 minutes, or until golden. Remove and drain on paper towels. Season with salt and the remaining 2 tablespoons za’atar. Serve hot.
Many Middle Eastern families have their own secret recipe for za’atar, a spice blend chiefly used in cooking with meats and kebabs, soups and stews. The taste is nutty, subtly tart, and thoroughly Mediterranean.
Makes 1 1/2 cups
1⁄2 cup Dried Sumac Spice (recipe follows)
1⁄2 cup dried thyme, ground in a spice or coffee grinder
1⁄2 cup toasted sesame seeds
Mix together the sumac, thyme, and sesame seeds and store in an airtight container for up to a year.
Dried Sumac Spice
This is a pantry staple that can be made at the peak of sumac season and used throughout the year. Eight to ten sumac berry clusters will yield about 21⁄2 cups spice.
Heat the oven to the lowest setting. After breaking apart the clusters and removing the twiggy core at the center, wash the sumac berries in cold water. (The water will turn pink and can be saved and strained for Sumac-Ade, page 191, and Sumac Jelly, page 192.) Spread the berries on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and place them in the warm oven for about 3 hours until dry. Grind in a coffee or spice grinder. Sieve the powder to remove the larger seeds. Store the powder in an airtight container.