Take your Middle Eastern culinary skills to the next level by mastering the use of za'atar seasoning, a blend of herbs and spices that you can make at home or purchase in grocery stores, particularly in Middle Eastern markets.
Traditionally, za'atar was made from a plant of the same name, which is also known as "hyssop;" however, the majority of za'atar seasonings are no longer made from this plant. Hyssop was considered to have medicinal properties and is mentioned frequently in the Bible. These days, za'atar is used almost exclusively in culinary applications.
Although the name "za'atar" translates to "wild thyme" in Arabic, dried thyme is just one of the herbs used in this seasoning blend—though, it's not necessarily a required ingredient. Recipes vary from person to person, and possible additions include marjoram, cumin, coriander, fennel or caraway seeds.
Za'atar Seasoning Recipe
The herbs used in za'atar vary depending on who's making it, so feel free to try out different herbs and spices each time you whip up a batch. This basic blend makes a half-cup of seasoning and provides a solid base recipe. For the best flavor, use whole cumin, coriander, and sesame seeds. Toast them in a dry skillet until fragrant, and then grind them.
- 1 tablespoon dried thyme, crushed
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted
- 1 tablespoon sumac
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon chili flakes
Combine the ingredients in a small bowl and mix well. Store in an airtight container.
How to Use Za'atar
Za'atar can be used in the same way you might use any other seasoning blend—in meat marinades, as part of dips, or on roasted vegetables, to name a few. Some common uses for za'atar include:
- Mix za'atar with olive oil and drizzle it over flatbread: Pita, naan, and other flatbreads are traditional in Middle Eastern cuisine, but you could also use the infused oil with thick slices of Italian or French bread that are crisped up under the broiler.
- Season meat or seafood with za'atar: Sprinkle za'atar on chicken, beef, or seafood before cooking. It gives a great flavor to the protein of your choice.
- Use za'atar on roasted vegetables: Toss chopped vegetables or chickpeas with olive oil and za'atar seasoning before roasting for an earthy flavor.
- Add za'atar to dips: It's a classic move to add za'atar to hummus, but you can also combine it with labne, a yogurt-based spreadable cheese that can be eaten with pita triangles. To make a festive party dip, combine za'atar with labne, fresh garlic, feta cheese, and olive oil. Blend it or puree it in a food processor and chill the dip before serving with pita and cut vegetables.
- Make a salad dressing: Combine za'atar with olive oil and lemon juice and use it to dress salad greens.