A fragrant, rich and flavoursome bake, loaded up with zesty spices and the creaminess of vegan Labneh
We baste the top layer of veggies with pomegranate molasses and olive oil, it makes them extra crispy!
This is the kind of centre piece that gets our appetites raving and the best thing, it’s easy to make and you might even have all these ingredients tucked away in your cupboards.
Vegan food for everyone, that’s what we’re talking about!!
We wanted the flavours of the Med for dinner tonight! It’s been ridiculously sunny up here in Snowdonia, perfect weather for a Med Veg bake in the garden. I was fortunate to visit Palestine recently and brought back some extra special Za’atar from Bethlehem. Palestine was an incredible place to visit, one of the most hospitable places I’ve been, and the food was outstanding. I will do a post about it soon. I must.
You might also like our ‘Wild Mushroom Lockdown Lasagna’ recipe right here
Beautifully aromatic herb mix!! But not all Za’atar is created equal. I realised this in Palestine. There are some captivating spice shops and markets in Bethlehem and I was able to try different grades and types of Za’atar. The one we used here was my favourite, lots of toasted sesame, fragrant mountain thyme and a little twist of zesty sumac there too.
I think many Za’atars contain different quantities of herbs, dried sumac, salt and sometimes other spices. Traditionally the mix revolves around lots of green herbs, like oregano, basil thyme, thyme, marjoram and savory. Of course, the best herbs, are harvested wild! Then dried in the sun. You’ll find Za’atar used throughout the Middle Eastern part of the Mediterranean, Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula and some North African countries. The herbs will probably shift slightly as you move around and many of these mixtures are kept as family secrets. Some Za’atar mixes even contain caraway, cumin or coriander.
Za’atar is normally served as a condiment, if you haven’t had it sprinkled over warm flatbread with a drizzle of olive oil, QUICK, you must. I’ve enjoyed this mainly in Lebanon, Man’ouche (Man’oushe…I think it’s spelled a few different ways) for breakfast.
I added it into the lentil and chickpea stew here, it worked really well. Za’atar can also be used sprinkled over hummus, a seasoning on vegetables and salads.
I like Za’atar because it has a distinct flavour and I enjoy the subtle changes in the mix, from Turkey to Palestine, you can taste the different herbs used and when homemade, it’s a reflection of the local environment and conditions.
You can check out some of my Lebanese foodie travels here
Seeking falafel perfection!
Tasty bakes like this are ideal for sharing with loved ones and neighbours love leftovers too! Your whole house will be filled with delicious fragrance after cooking this.
Good food shared is soul food!
This is a really comforting dish and loads of fun to prepare.
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Toasting some cumin seeds in a pan and then grinding them in a pestle and mortar or small blender, will really add another dimension to the flavours here. Well worth the extra little bit of effort.
No Za’atar? You can use dried thyme. marjoram or oregano, or a mix of the two. If you don’t have Pomegranate Molasses, try a Balsamic Reduction instead, or something else that’s sweet and sticky. It will help with the caramelisation.
Mediterranean Vegetable and Chickpea Bake with Za’atar and Vegan Labneh
The Bits – For 8-10
1 large aubergine
1 large courgette
1 tbs cooking oil
6 cloves garlic (peeled and chopped)
1 large onion (diced)
1 pepper (diced)
1 large carrot (diced)
3 heaped tbs tomato puree
400g/1 tin tomato passata/ chopped tomatoes
240g/ 1 tin chickpeas (cooked)
225g red split lentils
1/2 tbs turmeric
2 tbs ground cumin
2 1/2 tbs za’atar
1 litre hot water
Sea salt and black pepper
Vegan labneh, thick yoghurt or cream cheese (something nice and creamy)
1 tbs pomegranate molasses
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
Thinly slice your fresh tomatoes and 2/3 of your courgette and aubergine. Get them nice and thin, especially the aubergine, it takes a little longer to cook. Dice the rest of your courgette and aubergine.
I organise the sliced veggies now, it makes it easier later. Stack a slice of aubergine, tomato and courgette together, keep repeating until you’ve used all of your slices. Set aside.
In a large saucepan, add your oil and fry the garlic on a medium high heat for 1 minute. Add the onion and 1 teas of sea salt. Stir, cooking for 5 minutes. Then add your courgette, aubergine, carrot, pepper and tomato puree. Stir and cook for 3 minutes.
Preheat a fan oven, 180oC. Pop a large baking/ casserole dish into the oven to warm.
Now for all your spices and a good few twists of freshly ground black pepper. Add your red lentils, chickpeas, passata/ chopped tomatoes and water to the pan. Stir, bring to a boil and cook for 12 minutes.
Taste your stew and add more salt and pepper to your taste. The flavours should be jumping, if not, time for a pinch more salt!
Remove your warm baking dish and pour in the spicy stew. Top with generous dollops of labneh/ yoghurt. Arrange your sliced vegetables on top of your stew, see the pictures. A nice thin layer which snugly meets the edges of your dish.
Mix together your pomegranate molasses and olive oil in a small bowl and brush on top of your bake. Giving it all a full coating of the tangy mix.
Pop in the oven and bake for 35-45 minutes, until all is bubbling and your vegetables are looking golden and crispy.
Serve sprinkled with more Za’atar and a crisp seasonal salad, warm flatbreads and your favourite glass of something special. I also like a few chilli flakes sprinkled over mine.
Herbs are of course delicious! But they also have a huge range of healthy giving properties. Thyme is a superstar ‘erb. Very high in vitamin C, with loads of vitamin A, K, E and B6, plus LOTS of minerals, like iron, calcium, magnesium AND high in fibre. Even a little protein in the mix too.
“Give me just a little more thyme……!!”