Za’atar and its many uses
When we moved into a tiny apartment-in-the-city kitchen, I told myself with much conviction that I was not to buy any dried herbs or spices that I’d only use a few times. After all if I want real curry for example, I can take my pick of amazing restaurants nearby. Yet the memory of my first flatbread sprinkled with za’tar hung over my tastebuds. Admittedly what I tried probably wasn’t a legit version, using oregano and thyme or something rather than actual za’atar leaves, but drizzled with plenty of pungent olive oil, it was heavenly – savoury, umami (but not expectedly so), and tangy without being excessively tart.
Why make your own
Making your own, even under strict spice rations, is easy. There are only 3 ingredients that you have to go out of your way for, and individually, they’re useful for a HUGE range of other things. I can see you skepticism if the sumac is causing question marks to pop above your head. However it’s really just a more vibrantly citrusy version of paprika, and adds a gorgeous colour that wouldn’t go amiss in hummus, aioli or pretty much any dip without totally overwhelming other flavours. Then of course if you’re not spice rationing, you could add ground toasted cumin or coriander to your za’atar. Hell, I even snuck in some smoked paprika.
How to use
Disclaimer: these are not traditional uses, only suggestions based on my highly bastardised ideas of what would taste good!
Za’atar tastes most transcendental with good quality extra virgin olive oil that hasn’t been cooked, but if that’s not your thing you could try ghee or butter, or a light olive oil. After recently trying macadamia oil, that would probably work well too if you can find some. If you really don’t want to add oil, make sure to put it in something wet, or the texture will be dusty.
- sprinkle on or in breads, especially flatbread. The one pictured above is a quickbread recipe, but next time I’m definitely trying the yeasted version. Serve with olive oil.
- sprinkle on pan seared (as pictured above) or roasted veges – post cooking
- use to finish salads
- stir into dips, sauces and vinaigrette, or oil of your choice for drizzling/serving with your favourite protein source, esp lentils, beans etc. Note: if using on haloumi, don’t put salt in your za’atar or use less salty haloumi)
- sprinkle on to avocado
- use to finish soups and stews
- mix into rice pilafs, bulgur dishes
- sprinkle onto poached eggs, especially in a shakshuka
- stir into sour cream or yogurt for your nachos
- sprinkle on a baked pizza (esp if it has eggplants on it!)
- add to fritters
- with savoury pastry treats
- over tomato slices on toast (butter the toast or drizzle the lot with olive oil)
- your suggestions here!
Makes as much or as little as you like, but try to only make as much as you’ll use in one go as it’s so much more vibrant fresh! Refrigerate if you’re storing for a long time (ie. more than 2 weeks), or the oils in the sesame will likely go rancid.
It’s best to use fresh herbs that you’ve air dried yourself and aren’t more than a year old – otherwise you’ll end up with something dusty tasting!
- 3 parts dried oregano, marjoram or thyme (or if you can find it, actual za’atar!)
- 4 parts sumac
- 4 parts toasted (important!) sesame seeds
- 1 part salt
- optional: other spices you like and think might work well, eg. toasted ground cumin, coriander, or smoked paprika
Grind in a mortar and pestle, and serve with oil or something wet.
PS. One of my favourite food blogs Hungry and Frozen has released a cookbook! Laura’s blog inspired me to start my own and to this day years later I get unreasonably excited when I see her posts pop up in my feed (blog feed that is…taken literally that would be very weird haha). Her recipes are approachable and realistic but never boring – somehow she always makes you go “brilliant!” and you wonder how you hadn’t thought of that before. Always a real treat. Fishpond will ship it worldwide, or if you want to support an indie bookseller, apparently Unity Books will too by request (note the price there is in NZD).