As part of my promotion of sumac, I would be remiss not to write about za’atar, a tangy Middle Eastern mix made of herbs, sesame seeds, sometimes spices, and often sumac, the latter being indispensable in my mind.
I was introduced to it as a topping on pita bread, but it is also served with plain pita, dipped first in olive oil and then in the za’atar. I have since learned to use it in dressings, with vegetables, meat, fish, sprinkled on hummus or yogurt, in short just about everything but dessert. It makes a pretty amazing addition to bread and butter too, especially a good, fresh, home-made variety.
It is easily found in any Middle Eastern shop, and each time I have bought it, it has been a little different from any other. That is because the mixture can have only a few ingredients or many, dried or fresh herbs, with or without spices and with or without sumac. The za’atar I have bought keeps very well for as long as most dried herbs, which means it has probably already lost a lot of its flavour by the time I buy it.
So I decided to make my own mixture with what I had on hand. The result was recognizable, but much zippier than any I had bought, and a much prettier colour. You can actually taste the different ingredients, but the overall flavour is unlike any other. If you use dried herbs, it will keep longer, but I think if you have some fresh ones, use them. Make as much as you can use in a week, and keep it in a sealed container in a cool place. This amount I was able to use easily in two days, and I look forward to my next batch soon.
Recipe for Za’atar
2 Tbsp sesame seeds, lightly toasted
2 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
2 tsp ground sumac
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp coarse salt
Mix all the ingredients together.
You can also use dried or fresh marjoram or oregano as well as thyme, and in any proportion you like. This recipe just serves as a base – no need to follow it slavishly!