Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That’s all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you’ve got a feast for family or friends.
Developing intense flavors in a dish doesn’t have to take hours. In this stew-based recipe, those flavors come from shallots, crushed tomatoes and spices in a combination that reminds me of meals I’ve had in Israel. Specifically, it’s reminiscent of the well-spiced shakshukas that you’ll find all over the country, anchored by a foundation of richly concentrated tomato—and even more so when combined with the za’atar-coated salmon.
Za’atar is one of those ingredients that’s not standard in most American kitchens, but is definitely worth a spot on your spice rack. Though mixtures may vary, it’s typically a blend of thyme, oregano, marjoram, sumac and sesame seeds, and it’s a highly efficient multitasker. Its well-rounded profile works on pretty much anything. It’s perfect for sprinkling over hummus along with a squeeze of lemon, and it’s one of my favorite toppings for roasted chickpeas. I also add cumin to this dish for its earthiness and warmth; if you’re feeling inspired to experiment with spices, this tomato base could successfully be taken in a number of different flavor directions.
The stew definitely has a kick to it, from just a pinch of cayenne, so adjust the size of your pinch according to your tolerance. (That’s especially true if you replace your spices every six months or so to maintain potency and freshness.) Bringing balance to the mix, the shallots become sweet and melty from a kick-start toward caramelization, followed by a gentle cook in the tomato mixture.
The salmon is kept relatively simple to complement the bold stew. It’s marinated in olive oil, za’atar, lemon zest, cayenne and salt before it’s broiled in the oven until mostly cooked. Then it’s steamed atop the stew for the last few minutes, creating an ultra-tender texture and a light coating of tomato without changing the flavor of the stew.
Since it’s finished by steaming, the fish won’t have super-crispy skin, so I just discard it; once the salmon is broiled, the skin peels right off with a gentle lift from a fork.
So many other main ingredients could pair with this marinade, as well as with this stew, from other types of fish to chicken to roasted eggplant. Chickpeas themselves provide significant protein, contributing to the heartiness of this dish, which still feels light enough for spring, especially when topped with a healthy sprinkle of fresh parsley.
A richer rosé, like those of the Tavel appellation in France’s Southern Rhône Valley, cools the heat but also stands up to the bolder flavors in the dish; by contrast, a lighter, Provençal-style pink would likely fade into the background. I went with the Grenache-based Château de Trinquevedel Tavel 2020, a great value at 89 points for $20. With its red fruit and herbal flavors, it’s a natural match with salmon and would work seamlessly with the suggested alternatives, too.
Tomato-Chickpea Stew with Za’atar Salmon
Pair with a darker-tinted rosé, such as Château de Trinquevedel Tavel 2020 (89 points, $20) from France.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 50 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
Approximate food costs: $40
- 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
- 1/2 tablespoon za’atar
- 1 lemon, zested and then sliced into wedges for serving
- Cayenne pepper
- 4 salmon fillets, about 3 to 4 ounces each
- 2 medium shallots, thinly sliced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 15.5-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 1/4 teaspoon cumin
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley (optional)
1. In a large bowl or high-sided plate, combine 1/4 cup olive oil, za’atar, lemon zest, a pinch of cayenne and a generous seasoning of salt. Add the salmon and turn once or twice to coat in the mixture, then leave the pieces skin-side up to marinate at room temperature while you start the stew.
2. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the shallots with a pinch of salt and cook, stirring often, for 5 to 7 minutes, until they’re starting to caramelize. Add minced garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the crushed tomatoes, chickpeas, cumin and a pinch of cayenne. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and let cook for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring every once in a while, until the flavors have melded. Taste and adjust for seasoning.
3. In the meantime, cook the fish. Turn your oven to broil or its highest setting. Line a large baking sheet with foil, place the marinated salmon on top, skin-side up, and transfer to the oven. Broil for 3 to 4 minutes.
4. Gently transfer the salmon pieces to the Dutch oven, skin-side up atop the chickpeas. Use a fork to peel off and discard the skins. Cover and let the salmon steam over medium-low until cooked through, about 2 to 3 more minutes. Transfer the stew and salmon to plates. Serve with lemon wedges and sprinkle with parsley, if desired. Serves 4.