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za'atar vinaigrette

There’s a big difference between lucky and fortunate. Luck is a winning lottery ticket blowing in your window. Fortunate means that you’ve taken the initiative and done something. And because of it, there was a positive outcome. So I would probably say that I was lucky because my mother was a good cook but it’s debatable whether I am lucky, or fortunate, because my partner is a good cook as well.

squash and eggplant

Before dinner a few weeks ago, I’d grilled off some vegetable beforehand and left them in a plat à four (baking dish) on the counter, ready for dinner. Right before we were to eat, I asked him to make a dressing for them, and went about the rest of my business, finishing up the prep for the rest of dinner before realizing what he’d done.

oiled zucchini for grilling

When I stirred up the dressing to pour over the vegetables, it looked different than usual to me. From the looks of things in the dressing dish, he’d made a vinaigrette, not using the traditional dollop of Dijon mustard, but with my homemade yellow mustard mixed into it. He’d also raided my jar of za’atar, and added some of that as well. I was somewhat surprised, and a little furious, because it wasn’t at all the direction that I had intended for my grilled vegetable to go in.

grilled rounds of zucchini

But I guess I should consider myself fortunate that my Frenchman is an adventurous eater (and intuitive cook), because I took one bite, and was amazed at how delicious they were dressed with that Middle Eastern-inspired sauce. I’d fallen in love with za’atar ever since my trips to Israel and Lebanon and have a small stockpile of various kinds and blends in my pantry. (I got my favorite from a za’atar producer I visited in Lebanon.)

Another thing that’s debatable is whether I am out of my mind. Because we were invited to a friend’s house for dinner, who lives outside of Paris, and because of that, they’re fortunate to have a grill. I’d bought these lovely little vegetables to recreate the salad. I can never resist smaller versions of favorite vegetable when I see them and these eggplants and zucchini were no exception. Plus smaller versions of these vegetables (which are actually fruits) usually means they have less of a tendency to be bitter and are more flavorful.

sliced zucchini for grillinggrilled zucchini slices
grilled eggplantza'atar vinaigrette

I had planned to grill them off in my Paris kitchen, using my grill pan. But when I cut them into rounds and started grilling them off, I realized that it was going to take a bit more time than I anticipated to cook each coin-sized round, turning them the obligatory one-quarter turn, then flipping each one over, and doing the same to the other side. Because – unfortunately – I get a little obsessive-compulsive about those things, and I’m not lucky enough to be one of those people who can just throw a bunch of things on the grill and let them do whatever nature intended.


It also didn’t occur to me that I could grill these off on their grill (duh), which I now realize was silly and showed a serious lack of foresight on my part. Although the grill was put to good use for the main dish of the night.

côte de bœuf

When I first made this, I had more mature vegetables and the larger slices were grilled in my pan pretty quickly. So feel free to use large or small vegetables, depending on your level of patience, and your level of obsessive compulsiveness. Since my level is fairly high, I promise to let the subject go in a second, but for those who want to use smaller vegetables, you can slice them lengthwise to make the grilling go faster.

grilled zucchini

And to cover yet one last base, you could grill off other vegetables, such as fennel, asparagus, peppers, carrots, or even winter squash, as long as you slice them thin so they can cook all the way through and get a nice little char when grilled. No grill pan or grill? Oven-roast them.

grilled vegetables vinaigrette

And finally (whew), everything was served. The steak and the grilled vegetables with za’atar vinaigrette were enjoyed by all. I was able to relax – courtesy of a few glasses of Burgundy, and felt fortunate to be able to eat so well. And luckily for me, I have a new dressing in my arsenal.

grilled vegetables

Grilled Vegetables with Za’atar Vinaigrette

The first step, the salting, is very important. Salt extracts bitterness and I always salt eggplant but don’t always salt zucchini. However zucchini can be bitter, especially large specimens. So taste, and salt the slices like the eggplant if necessary. Unlike traditional French vinaigrettes, this one benefits from yellow mustard, such as Savora or homemade mustard, which is less-sharp than Dijon, more rounded. Sumac adds a touch of fruity sourness which is already in za’atar, but I find a little extra never hurts. Za’atar and sumac are available in Middle Eastern stores (za’atar can be made at home), or you can find them online. Kalustyan’s is one good source. The great thing about the vegetables can be made hours ahead, then dressed right before serving, which makes this great picnic fare as well. I tend to stir the dressing ingredients together to keep the sauce more fluid, rather than shake them vigorously, which will emulsify the dressing and make it rather thick.

For the vegetables

  • 2 – 2 1/4 pounds (1kg) zucchini and eggplants
  • salt
  • olive oil

For the za’atar vinaigrette

  • 2 tablespoons sherry or cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons yellow mustard
  • pinch of salt
  • 6 tablespoons (90ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 teaspoons za’atar
  • Optional: 1/4 teaspoon sumac
  • Slice the vegetables no thicker than 1/4-inch (.75cm). Sprinkle the eggplant and the zucchini with salt. (See headnote whether or not you should salt the zucchini. If not, just toss the slices with a bit of olive oil and salt, then grill them as is.) Place the sliced vegetables in a mesh colander and let them drain for 30 to 60 minutes, turning them a few times to encourage the liquid to run off.
  • Wipe the vegetables dry then toss in a little bit of olive oil.
  • Brush a grill pan, or a grill, with olive oil and when hot, grill off the sliced vegetables, getting them nicely charred on one side before turning them over. Generally speaking, they’re ready to flip when they become translucent in the middle. (You don’t want crunchy or undercooked vegetables.)
  • As you grill off the vegetables, put them in a wide serving dish, and continue to grill off the rest of the vegetables. If the vegetables slices start sticking, brush more oil on the grill pan or grill as you go.
  • Once the vegetables are done, make sure they are arranged nicely in the dish, then make the vinaigrette by mixing the vinegar in a bowl with the mustard and a small sprinkle of salt; since the vegetables have been salted, go very easy on the salt here – you can add more later, to taste. Add the olive oil, za’atar, and sumac (if using) to the dressing, then pour it over the vegetables.

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    • Katie

    I bought some baby patty pan squash the other day. Do you think I should leave them intact and steam or grill them whole — they’re so cute — kind of hate to cute them up….

    • Annabel

    This, for me, is one of those slightly confusing posts, as “grill” doesn’t mean quite the same thing in English English and American English. What we call “grilling”, you call “broiling”, and what you call “grilling”, we call “barbecuing”. Very confusing (and, of course, they are courgettes, not zucchini!).

    The vinaigrette sounds good – but why did you have home-made mustard on hand? It should be made mere moments before you wish to use it (okay, half an hour, to allow the flavours to develop) and any that is left at the end of the meal should be discarded – you only make up about 2 teaspoonfuls at a time! Having said that, just add the dry mustard powder to your oil/vinegar mix (or, indeed, to a sauce mornay or similar), and it serves the same purpose.

    I scored some za’atar (even if it does call itself “Lebanese Seasoning Mix”) in our local supermarket, so must try this dressing!

    • Jan

    I have been trying to resist getting a grill pan…this post says “resistance is futile!” This is, in my book, one of only three acceptable ways to eat zucchini, the others being savory pancakes and sweet quick bread.

    • Nadine

    It’s funny that you add a little sumac with the za’atar, like a true Arab! My family (Iraqi) do that too :)

    • Sini

    Za’atar is such an amazing spice blend (I really should try to make it at home). I tasted it for the first time when I made a recipe from Ottolenghi maybe a year ago. I have to try this vinaigrette – I bet it makes wonders to grilled vegetables.

    • Debra

    Just when I was pondering what to make for dinner tonight–how fortunate! Many thanks!

    • David
    David Lebovitz

    Sini and Nadine: Yes, za’atar is a wonderful blend. And each country seems to have a different formulation for it. (Nadine – I would love to go to Iraq someday and eat!) I do like the extra sumac, which adds a lovely tangy note.

    Jan: I resisted too, until I saw the one I got on a flash shopping site in France for half-price. Cleaning them is a little irksome, but they are handy when you want to “grill” but don’t have a grill handy : )

    • Flor de Maria

    I got some za’atar and sumac from a good friend from Jordan–I can hardly wait to get home and try this recipe in our brand new Big Green Egg (that we finally put together after sitting in the garage for two years). It sounds delicious-thanks!

    • Victoria

    These look delicious; now I have to check to make sure I have the Za’atar in the cabinet, and, if not, go down to Kalustyan’s before heading out for the holiday weekend.

    These are the vegetables I love, so am sorry to see the end of summer rapidly approaching. I know everyone is always complaining about what to do with “all that zucchini,” but I never get sick of Marcella Hazan’s Zucchini Parmesan.

    • Anna

    Hi David, great dressing! Happy to see your ventures into levantian flavours. I live in Bethlehem and its so easy to get all the ingredients here – kinda ‘forced’ to cook the local foods :)

    • Barbara | Creative Culinary

    Guess I was lucky I decided to go to Ya Ya’s one night and so fortunate that they served some Za’atar with olive oil for a dipping sauce? I’ve been a fan ever since…which begs the question…why have I never used it for a dressing?

    Lovely use of zucchini which I never complain about having too much of. I still crave a recipe from my Grandma which is basically, zukes, cream cheese, butter and garlic in a casserole with butter crackers. SO old school but also so dang good! If they are too abundant I simply grate them and freeze them in 2 cup portions for zucchini bread and then make loaves for holiday gifts…especially good use for those pesky ones that get away from you and need a wheelbarrow to transport into the house!

    Thanks for the inspiration…I’m doing this!

    • Kalyn

    Oh yes please. And I will have the optional sumac in mine!

    • Sara

    Hi David –

    I have a Za’atar plant growing in my garden (as well as oregano and thyme) and I was wondering if I could make my own herb blend to satisfy this vinaigrette? If so, how much of the fresh herb would you recommend?


    P.S. I have thoroughly enjoyed your blog over the years. You’re living my dream.

    • Eliza Twist

    Isn’t food always a little better with a good story? Perhaps even more than the recipe (will certainly give it a try), i appreciated you definitions of fortunate and lucky. Thanks for sharing!

    • Noelle

    I have a jar of zatar and haven’t really figured it out yet, so I am excited to make this vinaigrette. You made a reference to homemade mustard, and I would also like to ask you if you have a recipe for that. My mother used to only make mustard, she never bought it — my father was French, so could not abide yellow mustard, which was pretty much all that was available when I was growing up. After my mother died, my father and I tried to figure out how to make it, but were not successful as neither of us had a clue about the ingredients she used, except for the mustard powder. I have the last jar my mother made still in my fridge 10 years later. I’m hoarding it for when I need that taste. I’ve been looking for recipes for homemade mustard ever since, but haven’t seen any.

    • David
    David Lebovitz

    Eliza: Thanks! : )

    Noelle: There’s a recipe on the site, which I linked to in the post.

    Sara: Lucky you to have za’atar growing! I haven’t made za’atar but I linked to one by Heidi at 101Coobooks that looks good. That upcoming post has some information from the za’atar producer but there are so many pictures and text, that the idea of trying to tackle it has been daunting to me. I would try one part za’atar (dried), one part sumac, and one part toasted sesame seeds, then adjust it to taste. (And glad you like the blog!)

    Barbara: I just bought one zucchini the other day and it was nearly $2. The problems with not living near anyone with a farm or a garden. Enjoy your bounty!

    Anna: Fortunately, your ‘local’ foods are pretty wonderful ~

    • Christiane ~ Taking On Magazines

    You’re making my heart hurt. I lived in Beirut as a child and this brought back so many memories. I found my self breathing deeply, trying to pick up a hint of the aroma from your grilling and finished dish. I also followed the link to your post on Lebanon and lost myself in your tip there. Thank you.

    • ctbcomo

    I know this has nothing to do with za’atar but do you ever do anything with wasabi? I ask since wasabi is one of those spices (if you can call it that) like za’atar which can be used out of it’s traditional use in a western dish and produce an interesting flavour.

    • Suzie stein

    Thanks David for another very interesting delicious posting.
    For your UK readers, please note Zatar, spelt like that by Barts, is now available with other dried herbs, in Tesco and Waitrose. If you live near a Jewish community and there is a kosher grocery shop, Zaatar is normally stocked or you can order on-line..

    • MR in NJ

    Jan at 1:17 PM, I felt similarly until I recently made pureed zucchini-leek soup, using green and yellow squash and baby leeks. With the use of an immersion blender it was as easy as pie. Froze about 5 pints of the lovely, light-colored stuff. Thawed a container as the first course of a birthday picnic lunch at a lake on a hot late-August day, whisked a little Greek yogurt in, garnished with parsley, and served it cold. When the weather gets cooler it will be delish heated up.

    The double beauty of this recipe is that (a) you get to enjoy tender zucchini long after the wonderful summer produce is gone (and to be honest, you’re a little tired of zucchini) and (b) you can obtain the zucchini when it’s freshest and cheapest, make as much as your freezer can hold, and save it for a rainy (or snowy) day. Great little gift, too.

    • Paula @ Vintage Kitchen Notes

    Furious about a dressing that was going to be served among friends? jaja, you made me laugh! A trait that probably makes you research extensively until you find the perfect recipe and not compromise, not bad for a cookbook author…(wink).
    Recently I found a steak cast iron griddle that was my grandmother`s, at least fifty years old, and am grilling everything in my kitchen. Let me tell you about the smoke… a bbq will find it’s way onto my terrace this coming spring one way or another!

    • Ilke

    Zataar is one of those mystery blends to me and I ask for it to be put on the table everytime we go to a Jordanian friend’s house. I am looking forward to that spice post, You will write that, right? Pretty please? :)

    Sumac adds a wonderful taste too. Whenever I lack lemon at home, sumac comes to rescue.

    • Dessie

    I see grilled zucchini and all I think of is a yoghourt+garlic+mint sauce. I will try this. I spent a good portion of my childhood in Tripoli, Libya and those spices are close to my heart.

    • Leslie Bacon

    had baby zuchs and small eggplants… and all the spices. We don’t eat much meat, so I made orzo (my favourite of pasta ) topped the pasta with the veg and dressing — sprinkled with herbs and it was absolutely delicious!!! thanks… and I would never have thought of the zatar and sumac for the dressing….

    • J.S. @ Sun Diego Eats

    Sesame seeds + the smoky flavor of grilled vegetables is definitely a winning combination

    • phi @PrincessTofu

    I made some fried fennel blossoms and tossed some za’atar on it with yogurt. That stuff is perfect in so many ways…

    • heidipie

    Can’t say enough great things about Kalustyan’s–for one blessed summer I lived upstairs from them. Just a few weeks ago I made a pilgrimage to them, and came home with four different blends of za’atar!

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      About a year ago, I read a critical review of a cookbook because there was one ingredient in one recipe, sumac, and the writer complained that he couldn’t find it where he lived, which was New York City. Everyone piled in and mentioned Kalustyan’s, which is a special place and has almost everything. (Whole Foods apparently also carries sumac in NYC and I would imagine Zabars does as well.) It’s a great spice with a somewhat special place that’s hard to replicate, but is worth keeping on hand. (In my opinion..)

    • Lorraine Simoneau

    Thanks for another wonderful post, David! Can’t wait to try this wonderful grilled veggies recipe but, any chance I can find za’ atar in the Bay Area ? Truly enjoy all of your posts !

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      I know there are a number of Middle Eastern markets in the Bay Area. One place to try in San Francisco would be Haig’s on Clement Street or Rainbow Grocery. Over at Chow, there is a list of places to buy za’atar in San Francisco that’s got more options. Happy spice hunting! : )

        • Lorraine Simineau

        Merci bien David !

    • Wolf

    Oh yum. We love grilled zucchini and actually have some Za’tar seasoning!

    I know what I’ll be grilling this weekend.

    • Bridgit

    Thank you David. I live near Dearborn, MI (largest Arab population outside of the Middle East) and teach many Arabic students. I’ve been having so much fun playing with food from and inspired by Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem cook book. We have guests coming in from out of town… This will be the perfect thing to share with them.

    • Eha

    What a delightful vinaigrette! Oh, yes have used heaps of za’atar forever, and may even be able to unearth some sumac!! Somewhat amused, as I am a N European permanent longterm resident and citizen of Australia. Like Annabel, I am afraid I am used to ‘English English’ and am forever in ‘trouble’ with grilling and barbecuing, which are the only terms we will acknowlege ;) !

    • Phyllis

    I’ve made the za’atar recipe from Heidi’s Cookbooks 101 site two times. She recommends using freshly dried thyme, as in, place fresh thyme in a not-too-hot oven to dry. Strip stems of leaves, etc. Oh man, it was tedious. The second time I made it, I bought dried thyme from a bulk department with quick turnover and it was SO much faster. Nearly as good, too. I used it on virtually everything in my path until it was gone. Deliciously useful stuff.

    • parisbreakfast

    I got my Za’tar from the Lebanese guys in the marche and I’m always looking for ways to use it but I never thought of a vinaigrette
    Big merci carolg

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      I haven’t but I know a few places like that exist.

    • Ann

    Beautifully arranged I might add. Ha, you say arsenal, I say repertoire and I’ve never been to France!

    • Peggy

    I’m so excited about this vinaigrette because it’s a new way to use my Za’atar spice. We have a wonderful Middle Eastern market here in San Diego (Balboa International Market) where I can not only buy all of the wonderful spices used in Middle Eastern cuisine, but also fresh made Iranian flat breads, cheeses, produce, oils, beans, . . . etc.

    • Jesus

    My mother is making a trip to Israel next month and I’m definitely asking her to bring me some za’atar and maybe a small bottle of Arak, all thanks to your posts David! Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Roberta

    Re: Your recent newsletter – My green gage (similar to Reine Claude plum) didn’t jell/jam well at all either AND I refused to go get pectin……my friend in France makes incredible renne claude jsm…i must be doing something wrong. O well, next year I’ll stick to the tried and true French and Italian plums.

    • Musing Mar

    I love the idea of a za’atar vinaigrette, and of course I’m wondering why I didn’t think of that! I “discovered” za’atar earlier this year, and have been making my own. Now I have another delicious use for it. Merci!

    • Heidi Pie Aronson

    Lorraine Simineau, in the Bay Area you can get za’atar pre-mixed anywhere that carries the “Spicely” brand of herbs–the ones that come in the tiny cardboard boxes. Or you can get sumac at any Middle Eastern grocery store, and blend your own.

    What I’ve been having trouble finding is my latest obsession, Aleppo pepper.

      • Lorraine Simoneau

      To Heïdi Pie Aronson,
      Many thanks for your suggestions !

    • Marilyn from Montreal

    Do you have a favourite Rosh Hashanah recipe to share as the holiday starts on Wednesday sundown? Wishing you the sweetest and most successful and healthy year ever. Thanks for providing such wonderful and inspiring posts.

    • herkkusuun lautasella

    za’atar vinaigrette, never come to think of it! the latest favourite has been grilled veggies with verjus and oliveoil…maybe i should add zaa’tar it to take it just one step further…thanks for the idea!!

    • Wendy

    I made this today for a dear friend. My za’atar came fom www, in
    Napa valley, though I got it mail order. Fabulous recipe, and the dressing made it. Thank you for always making home cook friendly recipes.

    • Beth Font

    Some women get jewelry as a souvenir when their husband travels; I get spices – just the way I like it! My husband brought me za’atar, turmeric and paprika from Tel Aviv recently. That za’atar is infinitely superior to the stuff from the spice shop here! Eating it on labneh has been our favorite way but we’ll be trying this tomorrow!

    • Georgette

    We were down in NYC this weekend visting my parents when I read this. My husband made a quick trip to Kalustyan’s and bought za’atar and sumac. Made this for dinner on Saturday and everyone loved it. What a great recipe. Thank you!

    • Nari

    One of my fav restaurants here in LA has this super simple appetizer of puffy bread (drool) with za’atar dip served with a spoonful of yogurt (double, triple drool). I always think, “ooh, it’s gonna be so tasty on some vegetables!” Well, this is gonna have to get made pretty soon!

      • Leslie Bacon

      ohhhh Nari…. and the name of your fav restaurant, please!!!

    • Angela

    I made this dressing with plain-old yellow mustard and put it on some grilled eggplant this evening. It was fabulous!


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