Every salad needs a dressing

When I was younger, there were two things I had to wear before leaving the house. To be without them was like being naked. One was a narrow headband made from wrapped raffa in either pink or bumble-bee yellow (I even added antennea to them for a Halloween costume), and the other was a metallic octopus necklace. Made from sterling silver (why, what were you thinking?), the mass of tentacles hung under the umbrella shape of a body and made for a plaything that my hands busied themselves with when I was bored or deep in thought.

One of the saddest days of my younglet life was when I lost this necklace, and my headbands (yes, both) broke. The clouds gathered, the sea rose, a wild dog howled against a paper moon and the small me felt stripped of my skin. Then my aunt gave me a really cool Mickey Mouse watch for my birthday, and I got into watches. But it felt like many birthdays later, mind you (time is a huge expanse in the life of a kid, you know). The headband and necklace completed the plain clothes I wore everyday. Do you ever stop to wonder about garments as a concept? How come humans wear them, but animals don’t wake up and think to put on a coat and shoes before they leave their nests?

Here’s what I learned about jewelry — they’re adaptable and they make clothes better. As I grew up, I shed out of my collections of wearable trinkets, but I still love a great piece that adds that extra colour to your outfit.

And so it is with salad dressing.

Salad dressing is pretty much what the name implies: a dressing for your salad. On its own, salad is plain raw vegetables, and I don’t know about you, but I can’t do the whole raw diet thing. I don’t know whether I would die first of iron deficiency or boredom of taste! I like vegetables, and to me a good salad is a balance of textures, shapes and colours. With a balanced base, you can play it up with a flavourful drizzle.

When I worked at the Seasoned Spoon, a co-op kitchen in my university, my anthropology professor introduced us to za’atar. Anne spent a significant amount of time pressing olives between Israeli-Palestinian borders to research the production of their exquisite olive oil in such heated political climate. When the Spoon hosted a panel of talks, in which Anne discussed her findings, she left a generous portion of za’atar spice for us at the Spoon. I’ve never forgotten about this multifaceted spice. When I made salads in the kitchen, it was my favourite ingredient to put in the dressing. Za’atar is commonly known as wild thyme, but it’s actually a blend of herbs, sesame and salt found in the Middle East. So imagine what I asked my parents to search for on their recent trip to Israel.

When my parents returned from Israel on Father’s Day weekend, I was eager to use za’atar once again in a salad dressing. Call it the feature accessory to a bowl of vegetables. I love za’atar because it has a deep and curious taste that comes from the blend of spices and herbs that you won’t normally find by singularly adding other common spices. That being said, it can probably stand alone as the only spice used in the dressing.

Za’atar Salad Dressing recipe

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinaigrette, or red wine vinegar
  • long squeeze of honey
  • 1 tbsp mustard
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 tsp za’atar
  • Whisk all the ingredients together. I prefer a glass jar because if you have any left over, you can easily store it for another day’s salad.
  • Always taste, and add more or less of any ingredient, as desired.
  • Drizzle and coat vegetables.

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