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Za’atar Crusted Salmon

November 7, 2013

Za'atar Crusted Salmon with Tzatziki Yogurt SaucePin it!

Do you ever stumble across a recipe that seems so simple and obvious that you can’t believe you hadn’t already come up with it about five years before?

Actually that would have been impossible in this case because—shellfish excluded—five years ago I was still strictly avoiding all cooked fish (while stuffing my face with as much raw-fish sashimi and sushi as possible); I just couldn’t get over how… fishy it tasted.

Ingredients for Za'atar Crusted Salmon with Tzatziki Yogurt Sauce

The turning point, I think, came when my sister and her boyfriend prepared a delicious meal for my family (about a year and a half ago) that included an oven-baked salmon, served with a (minty? dilly?) yogurt sauce.

I realized that cooked fish didn’t taste half bad when smothered in a delicious yogurt sauce. (Nevermind that this might be true of anything, given enough delicious sauce for smothering…) So with “the Mediterranean Diet” making weekly “healthy! delicious!” headlines in the news, I decided I should give cooked fish a(nother) chance.

Za'atar Crusted Salmon with Tzatziki Yogurt SaucePin it!

Since then I’ve been on a (half-hearted) mission to eat more cooked fish: I would still never order it at a restaurant—thus wasting my order!—in case it showed up too bland, too fishy, or not disguised by enough other flavors, but we do try to buy the good stuff every once in a while to cook for ourselves at home.

(This is how much I find fish boring/unappetizing: I wouldn’t even order or enjoy it deep-fried!)

Tzatziki Yogurt Sauce with Garlic and Cucumber

And now that I’ve learned that cooked fish is more palatable with (magic sauce or a peppery pico de gallo-like salsa), or yogurt sauce, the possibilities for quick yet satisfying yet healthy weeknight meals have expanded dramatically.

Making Za'atar Crusted SalmonPin it!

I’ve found I can almost enjoy halibut and cod more easily than salmon, because they don’t have quite as strong of a fishy flavor, but then they also don’t have as much flavor in general… A bold, refreshing yogurt sauce tempers the stronger taste of salmon, making it more appealing in combination with yogurt than nearly any other type of fish (to my picky seafood palate).

Since Paula is IN LOVE with za’atar and we were already periodically having salmon + yogurt sauce dinners, hitting upon this recipe was really only a matter of time. But what a shame that it took us so long to discover it!

Za'atar Crusted Salmon with Tzatziki Yogurt Sauce

After all, homemade pita bread is divine drizzled with olive oil and crusted with a thick layer of za’atar smeared and baked onto it.

Labne dips for pita chips are also gluttons for za’atar (these days I would spoon MUCH much more of the herby spice blend into the labne than I did in those photos…).

Grating cucumber for Tzatziki Yogurt Sauce

Tzatziki yogurt sauce is not unlike labne dip: they are both made from strained yogurt, olive oil, and herbs (plus cucumber for tzatziki). Tzatziki was also not unlike the yogurt sauces we’d been mixing up to smother our salmon. (Well, one of us garnished; and one of us smothered.)

How could we have failed to see that all signs were pointing us in this recipe’s direction?!

Ingredients for Za'atar Crusted Salmon with Tzatziki Yogurt Sauce

Paula was the one who finally came up with it; and it seemed so natural, so obvious, so right—I think I actually experienced a feeling of déjà vu. Not like “I’ve eaten this before,” but more like “this seems like something I should have already had the experience of eating before!”

Za'atar Crusted Salmon with Tzatziki Yogurt SaucePin it!

Maybe we accidentally stole this idea from someone? But I’ve wracked my brain and can’t seem to remember ever eating or hearing of this exact meal of za’atar crusted salmon with tzatziki in the past… and now we’ve already made it four or five times so the déjà vu is no longer that irrational.

Making Za'atar Crusted Salmon

So if Paula and I stole this idea from you, we’re sorry and thank you.

Or if you’re just hearing about this easy, fancy, salmon strategy for the very first time, you’re welcome.

Za'atar Crusted Salmon with Tzatziki Yogurt SaucePin it.

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RECIPE:

Za’atar Crusted Salmon

(Serves 2)

Active (and Total) time: 20 min.

Ingredients for Salmon:
~ ¾-1 lb. salmon fillet(s)
~ 3 Tbsp. olive oil
~ 6-7 Tbsp za’atar (just under ½ cup; spice blend of sumac, thyme, sesame, and salt)

Ingredients for Tzatziki Yogurt Sauce:
~ 1 small cucumber, or ½ large cucumber
~ ¾ cup Greek Yogurt, Labne, or strained plain yogurt
~ 1 small clove garlic, minced
~ small drizzle of olive oil, to taste
~ sea salt and black pepper, to taste
~ pinch of fresh chopped mint (optional)

How to make it:

1. Make the Tzatziki first: Peel the cucumber, then grate it (or dice it) into a colander. Sprinkle the grated cucumber with a pinch or two of sea salt, then set aside for 5-10 minutes––over a bowl or in the sink—to allow the liquid to drain away from it. In a small bowl, stir the minced garlic and olive oil into the yogurt. Gently squeeze any excess liquid from the grated cucumber (and rinse off excess salt if necessary), then add it to the yogurt. Season with salt and pepper to taste (though it might not need more salt), and set aside.

2. Make the Salmon: Heat 1-2 Tbsp. olive oil over medium-high in a large non-stick skillet, add salmon fillet(s) and cook for 4-5 minutes, sprinkling ¼ cup of za’atar evenly over the top of the salmon.

Making Za'atar Crusted Salmon          Za'atar Crusted Salmon with Tzatziki Yogurt Sauce

3. Before flipping the fillet(s) to the other side, add more olive oil to the pan if necessary. Carefully flip the salmon and sprinkle another 2-3 Tbsp. za’atar over the second side. Cook for an additional 3-4 minutes on the second side, until cooked through and flaky. Serve warm with tzatziki yogurt sauce.

Print this recipe! (PDF)

Za'atar Crusted Salmon with Tzatziki Yogurt SaucePin it!

Related recipe posts:

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Baked Falafel and Tzatziki Yogurt Sauce Za’atar Roasted Chickpeas Blistered Shishito Salsa with Roasted Cod Pita Chips with Labne Olive Oil Dip
44 Comments leave one →
  1. November 7, 2013 8:42 am

    Wow, stunning the recipe and the picture. Thumbs Up!!!

  2. November 7, 2013 9:48 am

    i’m kinda like you : i don’t generally order fish… but i do like me a mean deep fried fish that is then smothered in a spicy garlic sauce. i love me some canned sardines, or asian styled fish like how my gma would make it … but unfortunately, any other way, westernized, it just doesn’t do it for me.

    you’re a better person than me, at least you’re making it at home. there is no way i’d do it.

    • November 7, 2013 12:30 pm

      Hm, deep-fried fish doesn’t sound *so* bad if it’s smothered in a spicy garlic sauce… I also have (over time) acquired a taste for the whole small Korean-style grilled fish like saury that are often served as just one small dish of many with Korean meals, but maybe in that case it’s because there’s so little there, and I eat it in such little bites (while avoiding the fish bones), and it has a nice charred flavor, so the fishy flavor/texture is not overwhelming.

      Other than that, it sounds like we do share a similar dislike for fish… I confess I like this dish mostly because of the za’atar and yogurt sauce (and because I know I’m eating healthily), whereas I know Paula actually also likes it for the salmon!

  3. smbishop permalink
    November 7, 2013 10:11 am

    Fabulous photos !

  4. November 7, 2013 10:27 am

    Oh my, this looks fabulous. Salmon is my favourite fish and am always looking for different recipes.

  5. November 7, 2013 12:38 pm

    Looks delicious! Got me excited about the recipe! :)

  6. November 7, 2013 2:01 pm

    My kind of food. Looks delicious. If you love za’atar you should try chermoula. Slow roasted salmon with chermoula is one of my favourite meals.

    • November 9, 2013 6:39 pm

      Oo yes, I need to try that! (Especially because I just replenished my pantry with tons of new smoked and sweet paprika…) Thanks for the recommendation!

  7. November 7, 2013 10:27 pm

    Beautiful photos of this salmon my friend, cooked to perfection :D

    Cheers
    CCU

  8. November 8, 2013 5:06 am

    I’ve never heard of za’atar before. This looks delicious!

    • November 9, 2013 6:44 pm

      Thanks! You should definitely check out your local Middle Eastern market (if you have one) for za’atar, or you can always make your own (the hardest ingredient to find would be sumac, which is pretty awesome on its own, too). I started out just sprinkling za’atar into Middle Eastern/Turkish chopped salads or labne dips, but now enjoy eating it in much larger quantities, as you can see from this post. :)

      • November 9, 2013 6:59 pm

        I actually have sumac! I’ll have to try to make this!

      • November 9, 2013 7:02 pm

        Nice! Now you can just mix in as much thyme, sesame, and salt as you want—keeping it more sumac-y for a redder za’atar, or more thyme-y for a greener one.

  9. November 8, 2013 3:29 pm

    I’m also in the “cooked fish is weird” category, but I have a deep enough love for za’atar that I’d make this. Other tricks I’ve tried to making cooked fish tasty: fish in curry (either Indian or Thai,) salmon rubbed with cayenne, salt, and cinnamon and broiled, salmon poached and served with a heavenly yogurt dill sauce, tuna crusted in sesame and seared!

    • November 9, 2013 6:50 pm

      Oh my goodness, thank you for all of those tips! Those all sound equally amazing and/or better! (Um, except for cooked fish in curry—for some reason I have even less tolerance for bland-tasting(-to-me) cooked fish inside soups and curries, even though I LOVE curry!) I’m also not sure about cooked tuna, but as long as it’s *only* seared, and still mostly raw… then yum!

      Anyway, I guess our tastes are alike because I also have a deep enough love for za’atar that it carries this cooked salmon for me, just as a heavenly yogurt dill sauce could. I have yet to try poaching salmon, but on your recommendation, I will plan to try that!

      • November 11, 2013 9:51 am

        I heavily sear fish to put it in curries. that way it builds a bit of flavor. But I totally understand not wanting to go that route.

      • November 13, 2013 9:55 am

        I’ll keep that in mind if I ever need to make a fish curry; thanks!

  10. November 8, 2013 3:33 pm

    This looks really good! I’m was planning on trying hummus crusted salmon tomorrow but this looks better! Recently gone wheat and dairy free (theintolerantstudent.wordpress.com) so love finding suitable recipes to try!

    • November 9, 2013 6:53 pm

      Wow, hummus crusted salmon sounds intriguing, too! (Or some hummus and pita would be right at home as a side to this za’atar salmon, since all of the flavors go together …I’m not sure whether there are any great gluten-free pita bread recipes out there, though.) You could also sprinkle za’atar over your hummus crusted salmon. :)

  11. November 8, 2013 9:11 pm

    Looks so beautiful! And amazing photos too!!! I really need to try this za’atar. I saw now several recipes with it and made me really curious. your idea sounds so yummy!! ;-)

    • November 9, 2013 6:57 pm

      Thank you! Yes, za’atar is delicious, and definitely really versatile. If you can’t find it in a local Middle Eastern market, you could always try making your own (as long as you can find sumac—which is pretty delicious on its own!). I also love sprinkling za’atar over salads, labne, and hummus.

  12. November 9, 2013 2:26 am

    Yum! The combination with the herbs/fish and tzatziki must be heaven, great recipe and pictures!

    • November 9, 2013 7:05 pm

      Thank you! I like this recipe for its simplicity and flavorfulness—plus I’m a sucker for a good yogurt sauce. (Tzatziki is also good with za’atar sprinkled into it!)

  13. November 9, 2013 12:35 pm

    Love your food photography!

  14. November 10, 2013 1:10 pm

    I make a similar dish but next time I’m adding a much thicker coating like you did…the salmon looks great.

    • November 13, 2013 9:57 am

      Thanks! I know, I used to shy away from using excessive amounts of za’atar (because it’s certainly more than I would use of your average other “spice blend”), but since it’s mostly sumac and thyme—and not too salty at all—you can use a LOT and it just tastes better and better that way!

  15. November 10, 2013 6:03 pm

    Cannot wait to try this!

  16. November 13, 2013 8:12 am

    I’m behind on my middle eastern food. I have not tried Za’atar yet… I know I’m lame… this recipe looks like a good opportunity!

    • November 13, 2013 10:04 am

      You’re not lame! You just have a lot of za’atar discoveries/love to look forward to. :)

      (I don’t think Paula had ever tried za’atar before she met me, and before I met her, I basically only used za’atar to sprinkle a little onto labne or shepherd’s salad, but then she quickly became so obsessed with it—AND started baking homemade pita bread—that suddenly we were using it with more variety and in bigger quantities!)

  17. November 14, 2013 8:20 pm

    I absolutely love za’atar. Nice use of it!

    • November 17, 2013 9:20 pm

      Thanks! I love it, too! This is just the tip of the iceberg with how much za’atar we go through in our house. :)

      • November 18, 2013 3:25 am

        Really? What else do you use it for? I’ve tried it on salads and on scrambled eggs (and on bread in the Middle East) but nothing else so far….

      • November 18, 2013 6:07 pm

        Well mostly, every time Paula makes pita bread (which is often because it’s every time she craves & makes homemade falafel, or everything she craves—& I make—homemade hummus…), then we save 6-8 pitas for sandwiches or dipping, and spread 2-4 pitas with a thick layer of za’atar and olive oil, baking the za’atar onto the pita bread during its last few minutes in the oven. Then we eat them as a snack (slash half of our meal…)!

        You can also just drizzle a little olive oil into some za’atar, stir it up until it’s mixed well throughout (but it’s still more solid than liquid) and use that as a “dip” for fresh bread (pita or otherwise).

        Then we also put it on salads, in salad dressings (same thing), over/in labne, over/in tzatziki, in soups, etc. I’ve never tried it with scrambled eggs before, though! That’s a great idea!

        (I did once try to make a fritatta seasoned with sumac, hoping for a lovely flavor and reddish color, and instead it made the eggs turn grey! It still tasted alright, but that convinced me that anything with sumac should go *over* eggs rather than *in* them. :)

  18. randynieto permalink
    November 26, 2013 1:37 pm

    OMG this looks amazing! I’m going to try it and get back to you!!

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