All About Spices: Za’atar

What exactly is za’atar? Apart from a spice blend, a wild herb, a dip, a condiment, and a snacking equal of popcorn, it’s an ancient cultural institution, a symbol of national id, and a private watermark. Za’atar represents what I love most about spices: it grants insight into the foodways of generations previous and introduces us to folks we could otherwise by no means meet. It also tastes really, really good.

What Is Za’atar?

Za’atar the spice mix is a mix of dried herbs, sesame seeds, and sumac, and infrequently salt, a centuries-old combination dating back to the 13th century, at least. What those herbs are and how all these ingredients are proportioned differ from culture to tradition and family to family. In a lot of the Middle East, za’atar recipes are intently guarded secrets and techniques, and there are additionally substantial regional variations. In Jordan, the za’atar is especially heavy on the sumac, so it seems red. Lebanese za’atar could have dried orange zest; Israeli za’atar (adopted from Arab communities very similar to the American adoption of salsa) often includes dried dill. Unsurprisingly, these variations are a matter of maximum national pride.

There are some requirements: the commonest herbs are thyme and oregano, and they make up the majority of the blend. Marjoram, mint, sage, or savory are also common. Za’atar was probably first made with wild hyssop or the eponymous herb za’atar, that are nonetheless used at this time, a lot so that the Israeli government needed to curtail wild hyssop harvesting to save lots of the plant from extinction.

My favorite za’atar blend is heavy on the thyme and the sesame seeds, which lend deep nutty and woodsy accents. The sumac offers an acidic lift, a superb substitute for lemon juice. With a steadiness of floral herby notes and wealthy flavors, za’atar is a flexible everyday spice blend. You should purchase za’atar in Middle Eastern markets (and increasingly, mainstream grocery shops), but it’s greatest blended at home with recently dried herbs, where you may have full control over what goes into your blend, and in what amounts.

How To Use Za’atar

Za’atar is most regularly used as a table condiment, dusted on meals on its own, or stirred into some olive oil as a dip for soft, plush flatbreads. That spread is often applied to the bread earlier than baking, which lends incredible depth of taste to the herbs and sesame seeds. Za’atar also makes a superb dry rub for roast hen or lamb, as well as on firm or starchy vegetables like cauliflower or potatoes.

In Lebanon, za’atar is most related to breakfast, a cue properly price taking. Attempt dusting some on eggs, zatar oatmeal, or yogurt (particularly labne). Or add some to your subsequent batch of lemon cookies—lemon, thyme, and sesame are a trio on par with tomato, basil, and mozzerella, good in sweet and savory foods.

Many people eat za’atar as-is, out of hand, and it’s surprisingly addicting. When paired with popcorn, much more so. Za’atar’s uses are practically limitless and as versatile as its ingredients. To get essentially the most out of my za’atar, I fry it in oil with other aromatics to gain depth of flavor, after which add some extra at the finish to keep its herbal notes intact. However something goes with this stuff. Fairy dust needs it tasted this good.