This salad is really a wonderful mix of flavors and texture combinations. Za’atar is an ancient middle eastern spice blend made from lightly toasted sesame seeds, sun dried herbs and ground sumac. Not the poisonous sumac you've undoubtedly been warned about since childhood, but a very food-friendly type of sumac native to the Middle East. The bark of this sumac tree is ground to a powder and tastes lemony and earthy. The salad is made with chickpeas, wheat berries, sumac, roasted eggplant, tomatoes, parsley and feta cheese. Everything is drizzled with olive oil and lemon, and then sprinkled with za’atar. If you close your eyes, the scent of the lemon and za’atar will hopefully bring you to a dusty camel caravan heading across the desert for a souq far in the shimmering distance.
Soaking and cooking chickpeas and wheat berries: If using dried chickpeas, place chickpeas and wheat berries in two bowls, cover with twice as much water and let soak overnight. Rinse and drain, place in two cooking pots, cover with water to twice the depth of the chickpeas and wheat berries, add a pinch of salt and pepper to each, and cover. Bring to a boil, then remove the lids, lower the heat and let simmer for approximately 1 hour. Test to see if tender. Cooking times may vary. Drain and cool. If using canned chickpeas, proceed as above with just the wheat berries.
Roast the eggplant: Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cut the eggplant into 1/2-inch squares. Place in a bowl, drizzle with 2 Tablespoons olive oil, the cumin seeds and the sumac. Toss with your hands so every cube is lightly coated in oil and spices. Place on two baking sheets and bake in the oven for 20 - 30 minutes, until golden and soft.
Making the salad: Mix chickpeas, wheat berries, eggplant, tomatoes, parsley, the remaining olive oil, lemon juice, and za’atar in a large serving bowl. Toss with your hands until well combined. Chill at least one hour to allow flavors to meld. Sprinkle with feta cheese, serve.
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