The Middle East is no stranger to strife, and its kitchens are nearly as contentious as its borders. The catalyst for all of the culinary unrest? A regional spice mix called za’atar. The precise formulation varies across international locations—nay, throughout households even—and each believes its recipe to be superior.
We here at Guy Gourmet take a more moderate stance: I’ve never encountered za’atar I didn’t like, and I’ve yet to encounter a dish that didn’t profit from its addition.
So what precisely is this surprise ingredient? Za’atar is a mix of sumac, sesame seeds, thyme, and salt, with cumin, oregano, and different spices often being included as well. Earthy, savory, and tremendously fragrant, it’s responsible for much of the pervasive, iconic taste associated Mediterranean food.
True purists craft their own, however packaged blends are readily available online or at Mediterranean specialty retailers, and plenty of mainstream grocers, including Whole Foods, carry it as well. Oh, and before you hit the store? It’s pronounced “zAH-tahr,” with no nasal “aeh” inflection. (Keep in mind: It’s a spice, not a strep culture.)
Now, likelihood is, you’ve already skilled this transformative ingredient; you just might not have been able to identify it. You already know the extremely-authentic, zatar luxuriant hummus that makes the store-purchased stuff taste like reconstituted gerbil meals? Teeming with za’atar. Or how about the vibrant, taste-dense Greek salads you may by no means appear to recreate as soon as dwelling? Positively brimming with it. But traditional applications are just the start—this versatile ingredient works far past Mediterranean waters. Here are a few more options:
Mix it with sufficient olive oil to type both a thick spread or a looser dip, and use with bread (pita, if you happen to’re capturing for authenticity; if not, crusty, recent ciabatta or other Italian bread additionally works nicely)
Mix one half za’atar with one half breadcrumbs. Coat pounded rooster breasts in egg wash, followed by breadcrumbs, and pan-fry. Serve with tzaziki for a Middle Eastern spin on a Southern classic.
Coat a spherical of goat cheese in za’atar, then partially submerge in marinara in an oven-proof bowl. Place underneath the broiler until the marina simmers and the top of the cheese starts to brown. Serve with bread.
Mix za’atar, Greek yogurt, white wine vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice, and crushed red pepper for a creamy salad dressing or all-function sauce
Sprinkle it over pizza (either your own or carryout)
Add it to scrambled eggs or omelets
Use it as a rub for grilled fish
Or simply sauté and toss shrimp with za’atar, season Greek yogurt with smoked paprika and za’atar, and assemble on toast.
These are just a few ideas to get you started. Give them a shot or give you your own. Both way, clear some space on your spice rack—that is one ingredient you’ll wish to maintain close at hand.