Za’atar

Za’atar Recipe

Za'atar is a wonderfully tangy, herb-forward Middle Eastern spice blend. Do you know it? I'm sure a bunch of you do. It's the sort of ingredient that tends to make an appearance in my kitchen this time of year. Right now it sits on my counter next to essentials like sea salt and olive oil, and I suspect it will be there a while. I find za'atar a welcome counterpoint to the sweetness of deeply roasted winter squash, a nice wildcard element in big hearty soups, ideal sprinkled generously over eggs of all kinds, and just the right accent on everything from mashed avocado to chopped olives. Seriously, it's good all around. It's one of those blends that varies from country to country, family to family, cook to cook, and it's simple to prepare. The base recipe for the version I make is a simple ratio of dried thyme, sumac, toasted sesame seeds, and sea salt. Pre-made za'atar is easy to find around, and I've sampled a good range, but it's one of those things worth making yourself. Use good sesame seeds, recently dried thyme, with vibrant sumac, and the za'atar you'll have will have an intensity nearly impossible to find in pre-packaged blends.

Za'atar

There is always some confusion surrounding za'atar because it is the name of the spice blend, and also the name of a class of herbs. We're talking about the blend here. I believe the version I make is closest to what is typical in Lebanon, but there are times I like to add other components. If you do a survey of za'atar blends you'll find some use marjoram, or oregano. You read of pistachios, turmeric, hyssop. Like any other spice blend, it's great to start with a good, basic recipe, but it's even more important for you to tweak it from there to your liking. I like a very thyme-centric za'atar with just enough tangy citrus reaching through from the sumac - herb first and balanced. From there, not too many sesame seeds, and just the right amount of salt.

Za'atarZa'atar

I'll include my basic recipe below, the one I use most often. But related to my point above, sometimes I add to it. I like how this Mexican oregano tastes ground into it. Or, a bit of fennel pollen is a kiss of magic - particularly when I'm planning on using the za'atar swirled with great olive oil into thick yogurt. Just remember, tweak it to your liking.

Za'atar

While you can used pre-packaged dried thyme here, I prefer to dry my own fresh thyme in the oven just before making this blend. The thyme retains a nice green color, the flavor is bright and fresh, and there is none of the mustiness you sometimes get with herbs or spices that are past their prime. It's one of those little details that make enough of a difference to be worth it.

4 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, stripped from stems (or equivalent dried)

2 teaspoons ground sumac*
scant 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, or to taste
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

Place thyme leaves on a baking sheet in a 300F oven until dry, just ten minutes or so. Just long enough that they'll crumble between pinched fingers. Let cool.

Use a mortar and pestle to grind the thyme leave finely. If your thyme is at all stem-y or fibrous, sift to remove any larger particles. Transfer to a small bowl, and aside.

Crush the sumac finely with the mortar and pestle, add the salt and crush with the sumac. Add the thyme back, and grind together a bit. Stir in the sesame seeds, taste, and adjust to your liking, perhaps with a bit more salt, or sumac, or sesame seeds. Any za'atar you might not use in the coming days keeps best refrigerated (or in the freezer) if you make a double or triple batch.

*If you're having a hard time finding sumac, check the spice rack at your local market (I've seen it at Whole Foods), specialty foods stores and/or Middle Eastern markets.

Prep time: 5 minutes - Cook time: 10 minutes

If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!

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Comments

  • Thanks for the recipe. I bought some Sumac recently and wasn't sure what I wanted to do with it. Will definitely try this out!

    Debbie B
  • Our friends Suha and Izzat make what is essentially breadsticks rolled in za'atar. Simple and so, so yummy. Now, I'm inspired to make this recipe for just that purpose.

    lori
  • What a good idea to dry your own thyme, I will be trying that. I have to say that on lazy days, pita bread with lots of olive oil and za'atar is my dinner!

    Tina
  • I recently returned from a women's trip to Israel, where we went to a spice farm that made a dozen different types of za'atar. I had never used it before, but fell in love with it! I was wondering what I would do when my supply ran out- now I know!

    Karen k
  • This Za'atar recipe looks really great. Do you have a Fo'ol Recipe, the breakfast food?

    S.Garland
  • I, too am in love with the flavors of Za'atar! I usually buy big bags of it from my favorite mid-eastern grocery, somehow I've never thought of making it myself! (I make my own curry, chili powder, etc-) Thanks so much for the recipe I will be putting it to good use for sure!!

    Kristin Rugg Dovbniak
  • I use zaatar also sprinkled on leg of lamb with some soya sauce and a bit of water. I also make some holes and insert some garlic in. Cover with foil and bake 30min on 250 degrees Celsius and the lower to 170 for about 2 hours... I think I have it in my blog somewhere (sinmatok).

    Ayelet
  • zaatar in the middle eastern is thyme itself, although they sell mixes like the one you describe. And they call those zaatar mixes. But again zaatar means thyme - زعتر

    nani
  • I read about za'tar in one of Ottolenghi's book and I was so curious about it!!!I didn't find it, so I think I will follow your recipe to make my own za'tar!! Thanks a lot for your tips!

    Chiara
  • Never had this before. I never had sumac either. There's definitely some catching-up to do!

    Mike
  • Nice! When I traveled to the middle east as a teenager, I picked up some za'atar and gave it to my mom so we could try some recipes. I found the package sometime this year unopened! Of course it is old now, so I would like to try and make some fresh. Also, we have tons of packets of sumac from a restaurant that we get take out from frequently. Do you think this would be usable in the recipe? I like the idea of using it with eggs, and mashed avocado as well! The idea of pizza dough or in a watermelon feta salad from a fellow reader sounds great too!

    Diane @ Vintage Zest
  • I was pretty ignorant about the contents of Za'atar until I read this post. I'm definitely going to give this a try. Thanks for the inspiration!

    Caz
  • Here is Jerusalem it is VERY common, its pairs amazing with toasted breads topped with cheeses like cottage, goat etc. and a drizzle of olive oil

    Elana
  • I'd definitely like to have this on hand. I'm sure I'd end up using less salt if I did! Plus, I love thyme and sesame and the combination sounds fantastic (especially on eggs...yum.)

    Kay
  • Za'atar is good for breakfast with pita bread- just dip bread into olive oil and then into the za'atar. Also great for a summer time snack with cold, crisp watermelon and salty feta cheese. For a speedy snack I mix za'atar and oil and spread it on rolled out pizza dough and bake. Its like middle eastern foccacia. Yum!

    Linda Maria
  • Lovely! I like to stretch out a fresh ball of pizza dough, then top with extra-virgin olive oil and za'atar. Bake until golden a fragrant. So delicious!

    Brandon @ Kitchen Konfidence
  • Hi Heidi, I've been a long time follower/lurker of your blog and your cookbooks are well used in my kitchen, with postits poking their bright little flags from the pages of recipes to try and special favourites. It looks like I might be the first comment, so I thought I'd shun my lurking status and make a post! I thought I'd take the time to tell you how much I've loved every one of your posts since I stumbled upon your blog several years ago. I'm not a veggie, but your natural and whole approach to food has changed how I cook and look at my diet. I always recommend your blog to foodie friends (and random strangers). I'm going vegan for 2 months starting February 1st (as an experiment) and I know that wonderfully exotic spice blends like this will help keep my food interesting and keep me from missing the meat. Keep up with the posts! Love from chilly Toronto, Sharon

    HS: Thanks for the kind note Sharon. I have to tell you, one of my favorite things is when people come to a book signing and my book is all flagged with post-its and notes and the like. Feels good. Give this spice blend a go - it's incredibly versatile. I don't think I mentioned it up above but I love it on brown rice, and/or farro too. Also great with lentils.

    Sharon
  • I bet this would be good on everything from mashed avocados to tofu to potatoes to squash to whatever...It sounds fabulous and I need to give it a whirl!

    Averie @ Averie Cooks
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