It’s possible you’ve seen earthy za’atar seasoning piled up in soaring mountains in an Israeli shouk or tucked away in packets in your local spice shop. But if not, you may be wondering: What is za’atar?
Like food, spices go through trends in cooking. They might not be as popularized as the unicorn fad or black ice cream, but spices quite often go in and out of style. Za’atar, for instance, has been having its time in the spotlight recently. While it can traditionally be found sprinkled on pita bread, it’s becoming more ubiquitous, popping up on menus and even landing on top of the innocuous avocado toast. With all its popularity lately, you’ve probably been curious about what za’atar is?
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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.
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How to Make Za’atar Yourself
There’s no reason you can’t make za’atar seasoning at home. Simply mix together sumac, dried thyme, sesame seeds, dried oregano, sea salt, and marjoram, using a mortar and pestle or blitzed in a blender.
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Recipes Featuring Za’atar
Dust Egg-Filled Pita With Feta and Za’atar
These portable, hand-held pita pockets get stuffed with baked tomatoes, eggs, sauteed peppers, feta, and finally garnished with za’atar. If you’re looking for something different to make for brunch, these are a real crowd-pleaser.
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Roast Cauliflower with Dates, Pine Nuts, Thyme and Za’atar
Roasted cauliflower gets an upgrade when it’s roasted with homemade za’atar, along with the usual salt, pepper, and olive oil. Finish it off with toasted pine nuts, chopped dates, and sprigs of thyme.
Grill Eggplant with Za’atar and A Side of Herby Lentil Salad
Thick rounds of eggplant get coated in za’atar and olive oil before being grilled, which are then piled on top of warm lentils mixed with pine nuts, golden raisins, mint, parsley, and lemon zest.
Other Foods & Flavors to Pair with Za’atar
Sprinkle Homemade Flatbread with Za’atar
Dreams of warm bread topped with za’atar can be a reality at home and not just in your neighborhood Middle Eastern restaurant. Making the dough for the flatbread is easy—it’s waiting for it to come out of the oven, hot and spread with homemade za’atar and oil, that’s the hard part.
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Smear Za’atar over Baked Salmon
Instead of dressing salmon with mustard, or just plain old salt and pepper (again), opt for za’atar to spice it up. Just rub the blend on as you’d normally do with any kind of seasoning for fish, then bake for 12-15 minutes.
Boost Up a Classic Roasted Chicken with Za’atar
The intense earthy flavor from za’atar levels up your classic chicken breast from basic to impressive.
Bltiz Chickpeas with Za’atar and Sweet Paprika
Let’s be honest: Store-bought hummus never lives up to when you make it from scratch. This version amps it up through the garnish: a sprinkling of za’atar, paprika, parsley, and extra chickpeas. There’s no way you’d find that in the grocery store.
Header image courtesy of Annick Vanderschelden Photography/Moment/Getty Images