Za'atar: Magical mix from Middle East

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Za'atar

Za'atar (Bill Hogan, Chicago Tribune)

Palestinians and Israelis share a love of za'atar. As do the eager appetites of Syria, Jordan and Egypt. The spice mix, flecked with green, is swirled into yogurt, scattered over eggs and baked onto flatbreads across the Middle East. Hardly a high-level peace plan, but possibly a low-level one.

Za'atar tastes tart, salty and mysterious. "It's one of those black arts," swears my friend Mick, "from the old country." His family's secret is to order Salloum Bros., from Lebanon, off Amazon. Easy recipe. But I decided to brave my own.

Turns out the green is thyme. The salt is salt. And the tart is sumac, a reversible anagram for Camus, but also an actual tree. Its red-brown berries are ground into the red-brown spice. Frankly, I had to revert to Mick's family secret — Amazon — to get a taste.

Plain, sumac is like gnawing a lemon tree. Mixed into za'atar, it's magical. Good enough — I wish —

to inspire peace.

Za'atar

Prep: 5 minutes

Cook: 5 minutes

Makes: About ¼ cup

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

2 teaspoons ground sumac*

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Toast: Scatter sesame seeds in a small, dry cast-iron skillet. Set over medium heat and toast, stirring now and then, until seeds turn golden brown and fragrant, about 4 minutes. Sprinkle in sumac and cumin and stir a few seconds.

2. Mix: Scrape seed mixture into a small bowl. Stir in thyme, salt and pepper.

3. Love: Sprinkle za'atar over plain yogurt. Or mix into olive oil as a dip for pita bread. Or spread oil/za'atar mix on pizza dough, bake and slice. Also nice sprinkled on fried eggs. Mick recommends this breakfast: toasted freezer waffle topped with Greek yogurt and za'atar.

*Try the spice aisle, specialty stores or Internet.

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