Za'atar spice blend is a popular and versatile mix from the Levant region that's also so easy to make. And once you've made some, you'll soon be adding it to everything!
If you're anything like me, you may find your herb and spice collection has a habit of growing all by itself. Even at the moment, while we are in Australia relatively short-term I have started a pantry from scratch, it still has a pretty good variety.
Early on, I got a few staples pretty quickly and tried to see if I could manage on just those. But I kept wanting to make things that needed other flavors so it has grown.
I have at least made a point of largely making my own blends. It's a great way to avoid buying yet something else, and you can make smaller amounts as well. Plus, you can adapt to taste.
What is za'atar?
Za'atar is, slightly confusingly, both a herb and a spice blend found in the Levant region. The herb is a kind of wild thyme (originally from Syria, as best I can establish) and it is traditionally used as part of the spice blend of the same name.
However the herb has become more scarce due to over-harvesting and it not generally commercially cultivated. As a result, za'atar spice blend often uses other herbs in its place.
What goes in za'atar spice blend?
You will find some regional differences in the exact ingredients in this spice blend. But the basic ingredients remain relatively consistent:
- Za'atar herb or other herbs in it's place, typically one or more of oregano, thyme and marjoram.
- Sumac - a popular spice in the Levant which is red in color and has a citrus-like flavor.
- Sesame seeds - these aren't always toasted but I think the flavor is better when they are.
In Jordan, the mix tends to be heavier on the sumac while in Israel you may find dill included in the herbs. You'll find a range of variations in Lebanon where it is particularly popular, with some including different aromatic spices like cumin in the mix as well. In Syria, it may include some Aleppo pepper.
The mix here is probably somewhere between a Jordanian and Israeli blend, though it's not strictly from one area. The mix if herbs tries to help get that mix of flavors za'atar herb would give, but otherwise it's a pretty simple blend.
Uses for za'atar
You can use the herb blend in a number of ways, as it adds a wonderful burst of flavor that pairs well with many things. Some traditional and other ideas include:
- Sprinkled on top of labneh, especially to use as a dip.
- Mixed with oil and spread on bread dough to make manakish (man'ousheh), some wonderful Lebanese flatbread.
- Used as a seasoning for chicken (see my za'atar chicken recipe) and other meats.
- Sprinkled on vegetables like cauliflower before roasting or before/after grilling.
- Sprinkled in salads like fattoush.
Za'atar spice blend is incredibly easy to make and such an easy way to add flavor to so many dishes. So mix some up, and enjoy it with everything and anything!
Try these other delicious ways to add flavor to dishes:
- Dukkah (a nutty-seed mix that's great as a garnish)
- Chermoula sauce (a North African sauce including cumin and herbs)
- Romesco sauce (a nut and pepper sauce from Spain)
- Plus get more Middle Eastern Recipes in the archives.
Za'atar spice blend
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
- 1 tablespoon sumac
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Put the sesame seeds in a small skillet/frying pan and place over a medium heat. Warm the seeds to lightly toast them on both sides. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
- Mix together the toasted sesame, sumac, oregano, thyme, marjoram and salt. Store in an airtight container until needed. Be sure to stir carefully before using as the sumac can tend to settle to the bottom and herbs to the top.
See some of my favorite cooking tools and ingredients in the Caroline's Cooking Amazon store.