Za’atar: The Beginning of Something Beautiful

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Za'atarDid you know that za’atar actually refers to Origanum syriacum, a perennial plant indigenous to the Middle East? 

Yeah. Me, neither.

Today, za’atar generally includes a selection of herbs from the genera Origanum, Calamintha, Thymus vulgaris, and Satureja (otherwise known as oregano, basil thyme, thyme, and savory). But when most people hear the word “za’atar,” they are thinking about the tantalizing Middle Eastern spice blend that creates a party on your palate and livens up all kinds of dishes. A typical recipe calls for herbs, sesame seeds, salt, and sumac, though most cooks have their own go-to variation. I use fresh thyme, since I adore it, and include both black and white sesame seeds for added color and flavor. Sumac is a required ingredient that provides subtle flecks of red and distinctive flavor to the mixture; you can probably find it at your supermarket. The black and cayenne pepper are my own touch, since I like a bit of heat; omit one or both if you don’t. It’s your za’atar, after all.

However you do it, make it. Make it now.

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  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon white sesame seeds, toasted
  • 1 tablespoon black sesame seeds, toasted
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground sumac
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • Couple of grinds of black pepper
  • Pinch cayenne

Toast the sesame seeds in a pan over medium-high heat about 5 minutes, until fragrant and deepened in color. While that’s happening, remove the thyme from its stems and mince roughly. (You want 2 tablespoons total once it’s minced.) After the seeds have cooled for a few minutes, mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Store unused za’atar in the refrigerator.

* * * * *

Za’atar can be used in ways limited only by your imagination. Simple uses include sprinkling it over olive oil to make a tasty dip for (pita) bread or scattering it on hummus for extra zing. That’s simply the beginning, though, so if you need help envisioning its many uses, search the interwebs or click here—and make sure to come back to The Nutrition Doctor is In the Kitchen to see what I conjure in the not-too-distant future.

Za'atar and Pita

Thanks for reading!

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Dr. P.K. Newby is a nutrition scientist, speaker, and author with expertise in all things food, farm to fork, whether preventing obesity and other chronic diseases through diet or teaching planet-conscious eating. As a health expert and food personality, she brings together her passions for food, cooking, science, and sustainability to educate and inspire, helping people eat their way towards better health, one delectable bite at a time. Healthy Hedonism (TM) is her philosophy: Because healthy food shouldn’t suck.

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