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Good on a bagel with cream cheese and GREAT over avocado toast, this tangy seasoning is the “hot sauce“ of spice mixes; put it on everything. Carry it in your purse, keep it on your dinner table, and stock it in your pantry. You can easily make your own to keep in an airtight container or spice jar for many months. But, trust me the mix won’t last that long before you eat it all!
The Very Definition of Diversity
Although typically a Middle Eastern spice mix, Za’taar adds a tasty punch of flavor to dishes of all kinds. Stir some into quinoa and chickpeas for (Vegan) Stuffed Celery Root; A Cozy Sunday Roasting Recipe. Sprinkle a bit over boneless skinless breasts to make a simple weeknight dinner like, Za‘atar Chicken with Tahini Sauce. Shake a little over quick sauteed zucchini, or buttered baguette. It actually goes with just about anything.
OK, What is this Stuff? And how do I Pronounce it?
Second question first. It’s easy to pronouce as “Zah-tarr”.
Ok, now what is this stuff? Za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice blend made with a base of Sumac, a dried berry ground into a fine powder. I regularly ate the spice during my college days in San Francisco. Restaurants of varied nationalities from Lebanese, Syrian, and Israeli, incorporated Sumac into most of their recipes. It’s not solely used as a lemony flavoring, but as a beautiful burgundy-purple garnish atop pools of delicious hummus or smokey baba ganoush.
When I was living in Fort Lauderdale, FL there was a marvelous little spot called The Noor Bakery. There they prepared flatbread that cooked in front of us while passing through a conveyor-belt oven. Before moving under the flame, the bandana-clad cook would slather the oiled dough with generous scoopfuls of his Za-atar mixture. After cooking a few minutes, the finished bread would come out the other side browned, piping hot, and with an earthy smell that made me salivate.
Although I have not yet found a way to install a similar conveyor-belt oven in my RV, I have kept this spice on hand in our house (& RV) at all times.
Why make my own when I can just buy it?
Well, it simply takes 5 minutes. But, I like to make my spice mixes in general because it allows me to control the salt content and sometimes I prefer more of one ingredient than another. Yes, you can buy a ready-made Za’atar spice mix, but you don’t know what you are going to get. They saturate some with mostly salt, scrimping on the actual spices.
Also, various regions of the Middle East emphasize particular ingredients. In my recipe, I play up the tanginess of the sumac, paired with the nutty, buttery taste of the sesame seeds. I downplay the thyme because in my experience Za’atar can go bitter if it’s too much at the forefront of a dry blend.
I suggest not skipping the sea salt, nor substituting with table salt. The crunch you get from the coarseness of even fine sea salt really stands up to the dried herbs and sesame which can be overbearing in texture. But, don’t take my word for it, give it a try and let me know what you think!
For a great read on one person’s experience tasting Za’atar for the first time, check out Za-atar: A Spice Mix With Biblical Roots And Brain Food Reputation.
Talia’s Tangy Zaa’tar
- Combine all ingredients and keep in a spice jar, or other airtight container. But really, its pretty great with my easy Zaatar Chicken with Tahini Sauce.
- There is no “step 2”. Its that easy!