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This quick and delicious recipe for spiced za’atar chicken breasts is absolutely packed with flavor! Serve it family-style on a platter with chickpeas, pearl couscous and a creamy lemon tahini sauce.
This recipe takes your everyday chicken to another level — boneless chicken breasts are marinated in za’atar spices, garlic and lemon and quickly broiled. The chicken is perfect to serve family-style on a nice big platter (which by the way I wrote a cookbook about!)
Along with tender bites of lemony chicken, you’ll taste a mega hit of Mediterranean flavors, with chickpeas, pearl couscous and a zippy tahini sauce, which is amped-up with even more lemon.
The whole dish has a relaxed Middle Eastern flair I LOVE. I hope you will too!
Minimal prep and maximum flavor: Those two things are at the top of any busy (and hungry) person’s priorities!
Ingredients for zaatar chicken
This is a fantastic recipe to make with pantry staples like canned chickpeas and tahini and it doesn’t require much time to put it all together.
- Za’atar: A Middle Eastern spice blend native to Syria and Lebanon.
- Chicken: Boneless, skinless chicken breasts cook quickly and really soak up the flavors in the marinade. Try to find “thin-sliced” breasts at your supermarket — they’re basically whole breasts that are sliced in half horizontally.
- Lemon: You’ll need both the zest and juice of 1 lemon (or enough for 2 tablespoons fresh juice).
- Garlic: Grate the garlic on a microplane grater or put it through a garlic press.
- Parsley: Italian or curly parsley.
- Canned chickpeas
- Tahini paste
What is za’atar?
Za’atar (zahtar) a/k/a “magic dust,” is both an herb and a seasoning blend. The herb is also known as Syrian oregano or hyssop and is related to mint and oregano.
It’s a variety of oregano that grows wild in the Middle Eastern regions of Lebanon, Syria and Israel, as well in Mediterranean areas of Southern Europe.
As a spice blend za’atar has varying components depending on region. But for the most part, it’s basically a mixture of the dried za’atar herb, thyme, sesame seeds and sumac.
How does Za’atar taste? It’s deeply aromatic in a way that will remind you of oregano times ten, and tastes like it has a splash of green grass, pepper and a hint of smoke.
You find za’atar in the spice section of large supermarkets, spice shops and definitely on online.
The seasoning for the chicken is a simple mixture of lemon, garlic, olive oil, za’atar and chopped parsley. Marinate the chicken at room temperature 15-30 minutes before cooking. Or, to prepare ahead cover and refrigerate the chicken up to 1 day ahead.
Serving za’atar chicken:
This dish is an excellent family-style meal — the sliced chicken, chickpeas and couscous look rustic and beautiful casually piled on a large platter.
I love to toss more parsley leaves over the top and have extra lemon wedges on the side for people to squeeze over their plate.
You can serve a few more vegetable salads on the side to round out the meal, like a colorful chopped vegetable farro salad.
Homemade za’atar spice
If you can’t find za’atar and want to make this recipe, here’s how to make a quick homemade blend:
- Combine equal amounts of crushed or ground dried thyme, dried oregano, sumac and sesame seeds in a small jar.
- Shake together and store up to 3 months.
If you can’t track down sumac, you can omit it. Try using ground coriander instead. It will still taste delicious, even if it’s not one hundred percent authentic.
Za’atar Chicken with Chickpeas
- 1 garlic clove, grated or put through a garlic press
- ½ cup (10 g) Italian parsley leaves, finely chopped
- ½ cup (120 g) tahini paste
- ¼ cup (60 ml) fresh lemon juice
- ¼ cup (60 ml) cold water, plus additional as needed
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Grated zest from 1 lemon
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml) fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup (5 g) chopped Italian parsley, plus a handful of leaves
- 1 tablespoon (12 g) za'atar seasoning
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped or pressed
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 ½ pounds thin-sliced boneless, skinless chicken breasts , 2 or 3 chicken small breasts
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
- 1½ cups pearl couscous
- 1 14-ounce (400 g) can chickpeas, drained
- Pulse all the ingredients in a small food processor or whisk in a bowl until smooth. Add more water if necessary to achieve a loose mayonnaise-like consistency. Taste and season with more salt to taste. The sauce keeps in the refrigerator up to 3 days ahead.
- Mix the lemon zest and juice, olive oil, parsley, za'atar, garlic and salt in a large bowl. Add the chicken breasts and toss to coat. Set aside to marinate 15-30 minutes or cover and refrigerate up to one day ahead.
- Cook the couscous in boiling, salted water according to package directions. Drain and toss with the chickpeas in a bowl.
- Preheat a broiler to high, with an oven rack arranged closest to the heat source. Put the chicken on a foil-lined baking sheet.
- Broil the chicken 5-6 minutes per side, until the meat turns golden brown feels firm to the touch. Let it rest about 10 minutes, then slice into ½-inch thick pieces
- Spread some of the tahini sauce over the bottom of a large serving platter. Spoon the couscous mixture over the sauce. Arrange the sliced chicken on top and sprinkle with the remaining parsley leaves. Serve warm or at room temperature, with additional sauce on the side.
Karen’s Notes and Tips
- Look for “thin-sliced” chicken breasts at your grocery store, or slice a boneless breast in half horizontally.
- Marinate the raw chicken up to 24 hours before cooking.
- Cooked za’atar chicken can be refrigerated 3 days.
- The tahini sauce will keep about a week. Before serving, whisk in some cold water if it has thickened.