I met Anas Chao first through a series of e-mails. He was a follower of this blog, and was going to be in Beirut and suggested we meet. We became fast friends and ended-up exploring the old souks of Sidon together. Anas speaks fluent Lebanese Arabic, resides in Taipei, but grew up in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where his dad was stationed for work. He trained as a graphic designer but is keenly interested in Lebanese cuisine. He is also a talented photographer. Watching the locals’ delighted reaction when they would hear him address them in flawless Arabic was a sight to behold!
Back in Taipei, Anas started his own business, aptly called A Meal, in which he cooked private parties at his home studio for people interested in Middle-Eastern inspired cuisine. Apparently there are no Middle-Eastern restaurants in Taipei. His business has been picking-up, as there are more people than he imagined who are amateurs of this type of food.
I was really curious to see his menu, and he graciously gave me the recipe for the item that interested me the most. Chicken in zaatar and tahini sauce. I had to try it. Tahini sauce (tarator) and zaatar are not normally combined in Lebanon. What is more traditional is to mix tahini sauce with fresh parsley or cilantro. Turned out the combo is yummy! This is an easy and delicious meal.
INGREDIENTS: (slightly adapted)
- 2 chicken breasts, cut into thumb-size
- Marinade: 1 tablespoon mashed garlic, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, salt to taste and 1 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup zaatar
- Tahini sauce: 1/2 cup tahini
- 1 large lemon, juiced
- 4 garlic cloves, mashed with salt
- 1/2 cup water or more as needed to make it smooth
- 2 tomatoes, sliced (or cherry tomatoes)
- 2 onions, sliced (or pearl onions)
1. Marinate the chicken pieces overnight. The next day, drain and pan-fry the chicken (Anas baked it till done). Coat with the tahini sauce mixed with zaatar. Serve with tomatoes and onions. Anas roasted cherry tomatoes and onions in the oven, I sliced tomatoes and served them raw.
2. To make the tahini sauce: Pour the tahini in a bowl, add the lemon juice, garlic and enough water for the mixture to be smooth; stir continuously until smooth, about 2 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more garlic or lemon if desired. Mix in the zaatar, adding it gradually to taste.
Image is by Anas Chao of a woodcarver in the Sidon souks, with his inventory of garlic mortars and ma’amoul molds and slippers! Anas Chao’s image of the pastry vendor in Sidon, Lebanon, and, below, a falafel-maker.