Along the Grapevine


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What is Za’atar and How to Make it?

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Naan with za’atar

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.

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Hummus with za’atar sprinkled on top

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.

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Ingredients for za’atar

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.

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Za’atar

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!