I typically ride my bike to the center of our town, about five minutes from our apartment, and buy a fresh baguette every morning. Recently a heavy morning rain deterred me from going. Luckily I’d bought some eggs the night before and had a baguette from a couple of days earlier also. No egg sandwiches with this bread – too stale. French toast sounded good. The jelly we opened about a week ago, though, has been sitting in a warm cooler for the better part of a week. Our experiments with putting an ice block in the cooler each morning haven’t panned out as the temperature returns to normal (hot) by evening. Thus, no jelly for the french toast. We have a bottle of real maple syrup but until we work out the cooler system, I won’t risk opening it.
I decided to turn the french toast savory instead of sweet. My good friend Dan introduced me to za’atar several years ago after he spent some time in the Middle East. A spice mixture made of oregano, thyme, marjoram, sumac and toasted sesame seeds, za’atar is large in Arab cuisine and is commonly eaten with pita and olive oil or sprinkled on top of hummus. I added the za’atar and a healthy pinch of salt to the basic french toast batter of eggs and milk. I was in a rush and didn’t want to cook individual slices of bread one at a time. I roughly chopped the bread like I was making stuffing so that I could dump it all in the pan at once to cook it. I put the pieces in the batter and let them soak while the pan heated.
Usually I cook french toast in butter, but when I think of the Middle East and za’atar, I think olive oil. The olive oil went great with this french toast and helped it carmelize nicely, also. Crispy on the outside, the interior was moist and creamy from the soak in the batter. Not my Dad’s famous french toast, but tasty and different.
Za’atar French Toast
1 day-old baguette^ or other bread, cut into large chunks
1 T za’atar plus more for dusting the finished toast^^^
+ olive oil^^
- Beat eggs, milk, za’atar and salt together. Add bread and let rest for 2-3 minutes so bread soaks up liquid. Meanwhile, heat olive oil until hot but not smoking.
- Squeeze out excess liquid from bread (if soggy) and add to pan. Spread out cubs so they form a flat layer in pan. Cook until golden brown. Flip, and cook on other side.
- Divide into dishes and dust finished dish with extra za’atar.
^ Ingredient purchased in our town and used by locals on a daily basis.
^^ Ingredient purchased at supermarkets in Porto Novo or Cotonou that cater to wealthier Beninese and foreigners.
^^^ Ingredient sent courtesy of friends and families in care packages.