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What is Za’atar?

What is Za’atar?

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How is this aromatic Middle Eastern spice blend made?

Za'atar is commonly used as a condiment for bread.

Za’atar is the generic name given to an aromatic Middle Eastern spice blend made from dried herbs and spices, salt, and toasted sesame seeds which dates back to ancient civilizations . Za’atar is commonly made with dried thyme, oregano, and marjoram, and often includes dried sumac as well. Other common ingredients include dried savory, cumin, coriander, and fennel seeds; the exact blend of spices varies by region and by family.

Za’atar is most widely used as a condiment for bread; bread can be dipped into olive oil and then into za’atar or may be baked with a za’atar filling or crust. Other common uses for za’atar include seasoning meat, topping yogurt or hummus, and steeping the spice mixture to make herbal tea. Za’atar is even eaten as a snack out of one’s hand, in much the same way people in Western cultures eat popcorn or potato chips.

Click here for our 25 best Za’atar recipes.

Kristie Collado is The Daily Meal's Cook Editor. Follow her on Twitter @KColladoCook.

Za’atar Spice Blend

I’m having a moment with za’atar, a classic Middle Eastern seasoning. Za’atar is a unique blend of herbal, earthy, savory, tangy and salty flavors.

Za’atar has been enjoyed for centuries on the other side of the world, yet it has gained popularity in the U.S. over the past five years or so. To be honest, I didn’t understand the fuss when I sampled a za’atar blend from Trader Joe’s several years ago. But then…

Everything changed when za’atar landed on our table at Shaya in New Orleans. They simply mixed their house blend of za’atar with olive oil and served it with crusty bread, for dipping. I fell in love with za’atar that night, and couldn’t stop going back for more.

This recipe is my best attempt at recreating the flavors in Shaya’s recipe, and I think it’s pretty close. Za’atar is versatile and complements many savory meals—you’ll find all of my suggestions below.

Za'atar Seasoning Recipe

The herbs used in za'atar vary depending on who's making it, so feel free to try out different herbs and spices each time you whip up a batch. This basic blend makes a half-cup of seasoning and provides a solid base recipe. For the best flavor, use whole cumin, coriander, and sesame seeds. Toast them in a dry skillet until fragrant, and then grind them.

  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted
  • 1 tablespoon sumac
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili flakes

Combine the ingredients in a small bowl and mix well. Store in an airtight container.

9 Zaɺtar Recipes That Aren't Intimidating

If there&rsquos one secret weapon we recommend having in your spice arsenal, it&rsquos za&rsquoatar. But the Middle Eastern flavor can&rsquot be credited to one single spice it&rsquos actually a blend (hence its super savory flavor). A mixture of toasted sesame seeds, dried oregano and marjoram (or thyme), and sumac, za&rsquoatar pairs perfectly with ingredients as simple as eggs and as rich as shakshuka and pizza. Whether a za&rsquoatar devotee or newbie, these nine recipes are the perfect way to make the most of the potent spice.

1. Za&rsquoatar Roasted Cauliflower With Dates, Pine Nuts, and Thyme

Great as a side or a main, this cauliflower salad is sure to please. The combination of dried and fresh herbs give the veggie-based dish a fresh bite, while the dates and pine nuts give it plenty of depth. We love doubling the recipe and using leftovers in salads, mixing it with protein (like grilled chicken), and putting a poached egg on it for brekky.

2. Za&rsquoatar Roasted Chicken Breast

The secret to juicy chicken breasts: lots o&rsquo marinade (and lots o&rsquo time marinating). This Ottolenghi-inspired recipe uses a citrus- and spice-loaded marinade to make the chicken moist and flavorful as can be. Pair with an grilled eggplant or on a bed of arugula. And for extra juiciness, baste the chicken while it roasts.

3. Israeli Power Salad With Za&rsquoatar Roasted Sweet Potatoes

As much as we love salads, it can be difficult to find one that actually keeps us full. This power salad, however, keeps us satisfied until dinner (especially when we add protein, like tofu or chicken). Made with fiber-rich chickpeas and sweet potato and punched up with lemon, tahini, red cabbage, green onions, cucumber, parsley, and walnuts, it&rsquos the perfect amount of crunchy, savory, and fresh (and did we mention filling?).

4. Za&rsquoatar Pizza With Dukkah Labneh and Purple Onions

Can&rsquot decide between a pita sandwich and pizza? We say skip delivery altogether and opt for this homemade, cheese-free spin on the doughy favorite. Keeping things simple with a labneh, radish, and onion topping is delish, but throwing extra veggies like kalamata olives, roasted red pepper, or artichoke on top could never hurt. The more toppings, the merrier?

5. Green Tomatillo Shakshuka

Shakshuka, meet SHREK-shuka. This recipe uses green tomatillos instead of traditional red tomatoes, giving the dish extra tang and an extra juice. For the richest flavor, broil the tomatoes, peppers, and onions blend with herbs add the mixture to the skillet and then drop in the eggs. Serve with warm sourdough or za&rsquoatar-spiced pita bread.

6. Summer Panzanella Salad With Za&rsquoatar Croutons

Panzanella salads have a little bit of everything. This recipe gets sweetness from peach, crunch from grilled corn and spelt croutons, richness from avocado, and freshness from chopped basil. Perfect for a barbeque or a light dinner (serve with orange wine), and even better as leftovers, this salad is the gift that keeps on giving. (Psst&hellip we suggest storing the extra croutons separately from the fruit, veg, and dressing to keep them from getting soggy.)

7. Twice Baked Delicata Squash With Crispy Za&rsquoatar Roasted Chickpeas

Stuffed squash is one of our favorite go-to dinners. But sometimes it can be a little heavy. This recipe keeps things light by using delicata squash (a smaller, less meaty squash) and keeping the add-ins simple with chickpeas and a drizzle of tahini. If you&rsquore craving greens, toss a handful of arugula on top or mix sautéed spinach into the squash meat before re-stuffing.

8. Za&rsquoatar Roasted Eggplant

Simple and fresh, this eggplant dinner is the perfect dish to whip up when you&rsquore craving something healthy yet hearty. Eggplant roasts with za&rsquoatar and olive oil&mdashpiercing the eggplant with a knife before roasting helps them soak up the flavor&mdashand is placed on a warm bed of grains and sprinkled with a fresh tomato and olive salad. The best part? The final drizzle of tahini (or tzatziki).

9. Spring Pea Salad With Walnuts and Za&rsquoatar Yogurt

Mayo, begone. This creamy salad uses Greek yogurt as dressing, along with sea salt, garlic, and za&rsquoatar, making it fresher and lighter than most cream-based salads. Another pro move: using fresh peas instead of frozen, which provide a much nicer crunch&mdashand, of course, flavor. Average pea salad? Definitely not. Best pea salad? Quite possibly.

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Za&rsquoatar is everywhere these days in America. Just do a quick Pinterest search for za&rsquoatar and you will come up with dozens and dozens of mouth-watering recipes using the spice.

Za&rsquoatar is a spice &mdash more specifically, a spice blend. Most internet searches will tell you that za&rsquoatar is made from thyme, marjoram, sesame seeds, and sometimes sumac. But more accurately, za&rsquoatar is made from a kind of oregano called hyssop, which is native to the Middle East and Southern Europe. Most za&rsquoatar blends will contain a mixture of thyme, oregano, sesame seeds, salt, and sumac, another popular flavor of Middle Eastern cuisine. Sumac has a lemony flavor and a deep reddish hue.

Za&rsquoatar is incredibly popular in Israel, where you can find it baked into flatbreads, sprinkled over hummus, and used in dressings and marinades for salad, fish, and chicken. But each country and region in the Middle East actually has their own slight variation on the za&rsquoatar spice blend, which you can see just by looking at them: some are very green, while others have more sumac, which gives it a deeper color tinged with red, and still others have lots of and lots of sesame seeds.

So, where can you get za&rsquoatar? You can actually make your own blend and then customize it to your tastes. Or take a look at Amazon, which has several varieties you can order. Whole Foods and Fairway markets also sell it in the spice aisle. You can also shop online from Kalustyans, an NYC-based spice and specialty food store.

Arab Food and the World:

Perfumes and distilled floral waters feature prominently in Medieval Arabic cookbooks both for their taste and perceived medicinal benefits, and the fact that Arabs traditionally ate with their hands and scents were used to mask the smell of food after the meal. In ancient Arab and Persian cooking, topping off a dish with rose water was the way to go, but today floral waters are mainly reserved for desserts.

But it is not all classic Arabic dishes. One of the great things about this cookbook is that Kassis not only relays traditional recipes but adopts an Arab spin on classic Western recipes such as her spiced pavlova with orange blossom cream and berries, her Arab take on the New Zealand/Australian favorite.

Scenes of Arab cuisine and its delicacies from “The Arabesque Table” by Reem Kassis. Photo: Phaidon Press

Kassis captures how food is more than just the proverbial breaking of bread. It is the sharing of cultures across borders and, simultaneously, what binds us to a place. The preparation, the fragrance, the taste of what we eat evoke memories that always take us back to that familiar place that feels like home.

Efforts to stamp a national identity on a gastronomic heritage might be a response to globalization and an attempt to erect cultural parameters but the Arabesque Table does away with those boundaries and celebrates the long history of fusion in Arabic cuisine. Ingredients travel across continents and different cultures have remarkably similar recipes. Spanish tapas rely heavily on fried foods but it was the Moors in the Middle Ages who introduced deep-frying. Tomatoes, cacao, and chilies spread from the Americas to Europe and Asia after the Spanish colonization. And we think of shawarma as unique to the Middle East but so many cultures have a similar dish from Chinese baos to Italian strombolis.

And against all the recent debates about labeling this or that Arab or Israeli, Kassis argues that food “is a regional and ethnic artifact, often more closely tied to language and religion than it is to an arbitrary political boundary.” Arabs, for instance, live around the world but we still eat the same dishes. We carry recipes in our language and culture and not in our passport.

Here are a few classic Lebanese dishes, that we feel will make a delicious menu to help drive away those lockdown blues:

1. Traditional Falafel
The authentic falafel is essentially a chickpea cutlet that is super crunchy and bursting with flavour! It is generally accompanied with pita bread and a fresh tahini sauce.
Note: Chickpeas need plenty of time to soak, the dish therefore requires a bit of pre planning so as to incorporate the soaking period.

Falafel | Photo: Shutterstock Images --> -->

2 cups of chickpeas (soaked overnight with enough water to rest over the chickpeas by 2 inches, along with ½ teaspoon baking soda)
1 cup freshly chopped parsley (stems removed)
¾ cup freshly chopped cilantro (stems removed)
½ cup freshly chopped dill (stems removed)
1 small onion peeled and quartered
8 garlic cloves, peeled
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon black pepper (ground)
1 tablespoon cumin powder
1 tablespoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons sesame seed
Oil for frying

Drain the soaked chickpeas and dry them with a cloth
To a food processor, add the chickpeas, parsley, cilantro, dill, onions and garlic. Add all the spices too (black pepper, salt, cayenne, cumin and coriander powder). Run the processor till you get a fully amalgamated homogeneous mixture. Note- it will be rather coarse. Refrigerate the mixture for at least one hour
Once out of the fridge, add the baking soda and sesame seeds to the mixture
Make small patties of the mixture and keep aside
Heat the oil for deep frying
Fry the rested patties on medium heat till brown on the outside. (it takes about 3 to 5 minutes)
Take out the fried falafels, and place them on a kitchen roll, to absorb any excess oil
Serve hot, with a garnish of fresh coriander leaves.

2. Hummus
A dish synonymous with the cuisine is a party favourite too!
It’s healthy, delicious, kind to the waistline and super easy to make. Traditionally, hummus is served with pita chips and lavaash bread but honestly it tastes good with pretty much everything! Which is why it is often served with freshly cut vegetables like carrots and cucumbers, as a dip in many houses. Here’s what you need to make this yummy treat:

Hummus | Photo: Shutterstock Images --> -->

3 cups of cooked chickpeas, peeled (soak the chickpeas overnight and then cook them on the pressure cooker for one whistle and then for 15 minutes on simmer)
6 garlic cloves
¼ cup roasted sesame seed (in place of tahini sauce)
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt to taste
For garnish
Olive oil
Cayenne pepper

Drain and dry the chickpeas
Put the chickpeas, garlic, lemon, sesame seeds and salt in a food processor to form a coarse mixture
That’s it! Serve the deliciousness with the recommended garnishes and you will have an instant crowd pleaser.

3. Lebanese Man’oushe
The Lebanese equivalent of a pizza- the za’atar flatbread
Za’atar for the uninitiated is a delicious savoury blend of spices like oregano, roasted thyme, cumin, sesame, salt and coriander. It is easily available in the market, and can be made fresh at home as well. Cut Cauliflower, tossed in olive oil, za’atar and garlic- baked in the oven, is a quick and delicious starter to every Lebanese themed meal (or just any meal, if you ask me)
But getting back to the flatbread, here’s what you need:

Lebanese Man’oushe | Photo: Shutterstock Images --> -->

1 ½ cups of all-purpose flour (maida)
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Warm water
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons Za’atar spice blend

For the dough
In a bowl add the warm water, sugar and active dry yeast. Set the bowl aside for the yeast to activate itself
In a wide platter, add the flour and salt. Make a well between the flour and add the activated yeast water to it. Begin needing the dough
Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and continue kneading till you have a well formed soft dough
Cover the dough and allow it to rest for a few hours or till the dough is roughly double in size
Making the flatbread
Once the dough has risen. Uncover it and knead it again gently
Divide the dough into 4 equal portions
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit, with a baking tray inside it
In a bowl mix the za’atar spice blend and the remaining olive oil
Roll each dough to form a thick yet wide disk. Use your fingers to further spread the dough. Add the za’atar mixture evenly across the surface
Place the flatbread disk on the baking tray and bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown on the edges
Remove from the oven and let it cool for a few minutes before serving. You can add any number of toppings to the flatbread, the most common one being cheese, and olives.

Now you know how to make the most delicious Lebanese platter. Share photos with us when you try your hand at these dishes at home.

If you like to make your own seasoning or spice blends take a look at these recipes:

Enjoy this easy zaatar recipe!

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What is Za’atar?

Simply put, za’atar is the name for a Middle Eastern spice blend featuring oregano, sumac, cumin, sesame seeds, black pepper, and salt. The blend tends to change depending on what part of the world it’s being made in Palestine, caraway seeds are added, while in Lebanon sumac berries are thrown in, giving it a distinctly dark red color. Either way, the spice is most commonly eaten with pita bread: Just dip the pita in olive oil, then in za’atar, and eat. Often times, za’atar is also used as a seasoning for meats and roasted vegetables, sprinkled on top of hummus and labneh, and it is even used to make herbal tea.

Homemade za’atar is easy to make yourself—just use a mortar and pestle to crush all the ingredients together into a powder—but you can also buy it pre-made and put it on pretty much everything for an added nutty and herby flavor. Here are a couple of ways you can use it.

Spicy World Za'atar, $5.99 on Amazon

What Exactly is Za’atar Anyway?

Za’atar is the name of a plant, an herb, that is native to the Middle East, and grows wild there.

Often referred to as a za’atar spice blend, mix, or dip, it is technically not fully a spice mix.

The word za’atar is an Arabic word that refers to the plant, as well as to the mix that utilizes the herb as it’s main ingredient.

It is said that this plant was referred to in the bible as hyssop, and later described as ‘a wild shrub of unknown identity.’

Today hyssop is a well known plant in the mint family that is used in herbal medicine as a cough reliever.

Za’atar, also a member of the mint family, is in fact a species of wild oregano, sometimes referred to as Greek oregano.

Many translations of zaatar to English have been recorded as thyme , which incidentally is also part of the mint family.

Thyme does not have the same flavor, and has been mislabeled for a long time.

The herb that goes into za’atar mix is indeed dried oregano that is indiginous to the Middle East.

Where Do You Buy Za’atar

There are many stores that sell za’atar in the spice aisle. I’ve tried a few from my local supermarket chains but it wasn’t until I purchased Z&Z Za’atar that I absolutely fell in love!

Made from fresh ingredients purchased in Palestine, this family owned company (located in Washington, DC) makes one of the best tasting za’atar spice blends I’ve ever tried.

I also love the story behind their company and the recipes featured on their website. I’m a huge fan of family owned businesses that also participate in their local community.

Purchase Now on Amazon