One of my favorite crispy chicken preparations, schnitzel is a perfect weeknight dish, since only a short list of mostly basic pantry ingredients is required. I always understood this simple breaded cutlet to be popular German and Austrian fare (and that Italians have a version, too). It wasn't until I went to Israel in my late teens, to travel and work on a kibbutz, that I learned it's ubiquitous there, as well — brought to the country by Eastern European immigrants. My fellow kibbutzniks made many variations, but the Middle Eastern rendition was the one I loved most. To recreate it is easy, thanks to the relatively widespread availability of za'atar. Served with a crisp, bright Israeli salad, it's equally at home on a dinner plate as it is packed into a pita with a spoonful of hummus and a drizzle of hot sauce.
Technique tip: Adding za'atar (a Middle Eastern spice blend) to the breadcrumbs for coating adds a punchy level of flavor I adore. Pounding the raw chicken breasts thinly between 2 sheets of plastic wrap before breading and pan frying ensures the chicken cooks quickly and evenly, so your meal is done in no time.
Swap option: You could swap the za'atar blend for a teaspoon each of toasted sesame, dried sumac and dried thyme. Add a big pinch of chile flakes or chile powder for more heat.
For the salad:
In a large bowl, combine the bell pepper, cucumber, onion, tomatoes, parsley and mint. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
For the schnitzel:1.
Heat the oven to 200 F. Place an ovenproof platter or a baking sheet in the oven to warm. In a wide, shallow bowl, stir together the flour, 1 teaspoon salt and a generous pinch of pepper. Whisk together the eggs and a pinch of salt in another shallow bowl. Combine the panko, za'atar, lemon zest and a pinch of salt in a third shallow bowl.2.
Using the flat side of a meat pounder or a rolling pin, gently pound each cutlet between 2 sheets of plastic wrap to 1/8-inch thickness. Pat the cutlets dry and season both sides lightly with salt and pepper. Dredge in the seasoned flour, shaking off excess. Dip in the eggs, letting excess drip off, then gently press into the panko mixture to completely coat. Transfer the cutlets to a large plate.3.
Heat the 1/2 cup oil in a 10- to 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Fry the cutlets in 2 batches, turning once, until cooked through and crispy, about 3 minutes per side. Drain each batch on paper towel–lined plates, season with salt, then transfer to the platter in the oven to keep warm.
Add the 2 tablespoons oil, lemon juice, za'atar, sumac, if using, and a generous pinch each of salt and pepper to the vegetable mixture. Toss to combine.
Serve the schnitzel with the salad piled on top and lemon wedges on the side.
For the leftover pita sandwiches:1.
Slice leftover schnitzel cutlets into 2-inch strips. Cut the top inch off each pita. Spread a tablespoon or so of hummus into each pita pocket.2.
Stuff 4 to 6 strips of schnitzel into each pita, then top with remaining Israeli salad. In a small bowl, whisk the tahini with a teaspoon or so of warm water until smooth and pourable, but still thick.3.
Drizzle the pitas with the tahini sauce, and a few drops of hot sauce if desired. Serve with more lemon wedges on the side.