Za’atar Crusted Salmon
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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!
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…).
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?!
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!”
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.
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.
Print this recipe. (PDF)
Za’atar Crusted Salmon
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.
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)
Related recipe posts:
|Baked Falafel and Tzatziki Yogurt Sauce||Za’atar Roasted Chickpeas||Blistered Shishito Salsa with Roasted Cod||Pita Chips with Labne Olive Oil Dip|