Za'atar Beef Cheeks With Fennel and Mango Salad

Time 40 minutes
Yields Serves 4
A bright fennel and green mango salad adds crunch and tartness to braised beef cheeks crusted in nutty, herbal za'atar.
(Silvia Razgova/For The Times)
Print RecipePrint Recipe

Beef cheeks are crusted in za’atar and then braised in a date purée, which gives them a complex herbal sweetness to balance the rich cut. If you can’t find cheeks, use beef chuck as a substitute. The tart and crunchy fennel and green mango salad lifts the beef with its bright flavors. Green mangoes are available in most grocery stores, but if you aren’t able to find them, substitute the amount with tart green apples.


Make the salad: Trim the fronds from the fennel and roughly chop enough to make 2 tablespoons; reserve in a small bowl. Halve the fennel bulb lengthwise, then thinly slice lengthwise and add to a large bowl. Peel the mangoes, then cut off the flesh around the pit into whole pieces. Thinly slice the mango flesh lengthwise and add to the bowl with the fennel. Tear the basil and mint leaves into small pieces with your fingers and add to the bowl.


Add the reserved fennel fronds to the bowl along with the olive oil, lemon juice and sugar. Season liberally with salt and pepper and toss the salad ingredients to combine. Cover the bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve, up to 30 minutes before you’re ready to serve.


Re-warm the Za’atar Beef Cheeks in a pot over medium heat, then transfer the meat to a serving platter and spoon over the sauce. Sprinkle the pistachios over the top of the fennel-mango salad, then serve the salad alongside the beef with Barbari bread to dip into the juices.

To braise the Za'atar Beef Cheeks
Heat the oven to 325 degrees. In a heatproof bowl, pour 2 cups boiling hot water over 6 large pitted dates. Cover and let steep until cooled to room temperature.

Mix 1/2 cup za’atar with 2 teaspoons kosher salt in a small bowl. Cut 2 1/2 to 3 pounds trimmed beef cheeks (or beef chuck) into 3-inch pieces and pat dry. Working one at a time, press the beef cheeks into the za’atar mix, coating the meat evenly, and transfer to a plate.

Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a large Dutch oven or saucepan over medium heat. Add half the beef pieces and cook, flipping halfway through, until browned, about 20 minutes. Return the browned beef to the plate. Add 2 tablespoons more vegetable oil and repeat, browning the rest of the beef. Wipe the pot dry and reserve.

While the beef browns, combine the rehydrated dates and their soaking liquid, 2 cups more water and 2 teaspoons kosher salt in a blender, and purée until smooth.

Transfer the browned beef back to the Dutch oven, add 2 bay leaves and 2 peeled and smashed garlic cloves, then pour in the pureed date mixture. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cover and transfer the pot to the oven and braise until the liquid is reduced and the meat can easily be broken with a spoon, about 2 hours.

Remove the pot from the oven and let cool. Store the beef in the pot or transfer it to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 4 days or until ready to use.