The Spice I Can’t Live Without: Za’atar
Add a Moorish kick to your dishes!
There is a restaurant near me that makes its own za'atar spice mix. You can take home your own, packed neatly into a cute glass, but if you eat in, you’ll meet it in its freshest and punchiest form: A little bowl of za'atar sits alongside some fresh flatbread on a crisp, white tablecloth, ready for dipping, as conversations start to flow.
Za’atar, also known as zatar, zaatar, or atar, is a delicious, crunchy, and herbal spice mix with a citrusy, toasty aroma—I like when it errs heavily toward the latter. It’s used predominantly throughout the Middle East and North Africa, in Syria, Libya, Sudan, Israel, and also in Turkey and Cyprus. The foundational components of za’atar often include a regional type of thyme (from which the mix gets its name), sesame, and sumac, a fruity and sour, richly-colored spice—but the exact mix will vary by country, region, and family!
If you’re a fan of Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes, you’re probably more than familiar with za’atar—which he uses broadly, matching it to red meat, poultry, fish, as well as to spike many a vegetarian dish. You can spice falafel with it, mix it with cream cheese and olive oil to make a spread, use it to pep up hummus, baba ganoush or tzatziki, or to give a pasta salad an unexpected edge.
How to make za’atar at home
If you’d like to make your own at home, it’s quick and easy to do so. Use the following basic recipe:
2 tbsp sesame seeds
2 tbsp fresh or 1 tbsp dried thyme
2 tbsp sumac
Stir together until well combined and you’re done! If you keep your za’atar in a sealed jar or container in the cupboard, away from light, it will stay fresh for several weeks, even months. To get a better handle on how to store different spices best, head over here.
Tips and tricks for different variations:
– For an extra fresh mix, use lemon thyme instead.
– Some recipes stray from tradition and add oregano and coriander seeds to the mix.
– You can also add 1 tbsp of flaky sea salt to the above recipe, which is especially good for dipping with olive oil-soaked bread.
– To add more richness, toast your sesame seeds, slowly over medium heat until light golden and fragrant.
– If you prefer a finer texture, grind the spice mix up with a mortar and pestle or spice grinder—though you lose the crunchiness, it has useful applications. Try using it in the following recipe in place of ras el hanout.
More za’atar-rich recipes
Published on October 27, 2020