Known as the” King of Herbs” in the Middle East, za’atar is both a class of herbs and an aromatic and alluring blend of spices.
Za’atar, the spice blend, is such an incredibly versatile mix of spices that it is easily one of my favorites. I’m sure many of you may be familiar with it already. I have bags of it—brought from friends from Lebanon and Jordan—in my freezer. This wonderfully tangy Middle Eastern spice blend is generally a mixture of dried and ground thyme, oregano, sumac, toasted sesame seeds and often, salt. Other variations include marjoram, mint, sage, or savory. Sumac is a beautiful deep red color. Its fruity-tart flavor makes it a great substitute for lemon juice.
Za’atar’s distinctive styles—the choice of herbs, proportions and color—vary from country to country and culture to culture. Each family develops its own special blend. I prefer za’atar blends with more thyme and sesame seeds, as they invoke deep nutty and woodsy accents.
I love za’atar’s versatility. Frequently used as a table condiment, it adds an element of zest and enhances almost any dish. It’s often stirred with olive oil and served on soft flatbread; other times the mix is spread on bread rounds drizzled with olive oil which are then baked; it can also be sprinkled on labneh or hummus; and I find it also lends an incredible depth of flavor to roasted tofu, sweet winter squash, and other starchy vegetables.
In Lebanon, the word za’atar also means thyme, but they also have their own version of za’atar (the spice blend) that is most associated with breakfast foods. Za’atar is sprinkled on eggs, oatmeal, or plain yogurt—labneh, in particular). Perfect in both sweet and savory foods, za’atar is truly a delightful companion in any kitchen.
You can purchase za’atar in Middle Eastern markets and in some mainstream grocery and specialty stores. I recently saw various blends at Whole Foods and Williams-Sonoma. However, it’s best blended at home if you have recently dried herbs, good sesame seeds, and vibrant sumac. This way you can control what goes into your blend, and tweak it to your liking.
Have you tried making za’atar at home? Do you have a favorite way of eating za’atar? If so, I’d love to know. Please let me know in the comments below.