Although the ingredients on their own – thyme,origanum and sesame – are well known, their combination in a mixture called za’atar is rather unusual. Za’atar is more of a herb than a spice blend and typically comprises a combination of sesame seeds, dried thyme, origanum, sumac and a little salt. You’ll find za’atar in dishes across North Africa, around the corner in the Middle Eastern countries of Jordan and Israel, and in Greece and Turkey.
It’s usually sprinkled onto food as a seasoning or garnish. In Israel, it is frequently served with labneh (a creamy white fresh cheese) or simply with bread and olive oil as a breakfast dish. When combined with olive oil it forms a paste that can be brushed on flatbreads or on fish before grilling. You can even sprinkle it over roasted vegetables and roast chicken, or use it as a rub before cooking. These days ready-blended za’atar can be found in some Middle Eastern food stores, but is easily made at home.
- 30ml sesame seeds
- 15ml dried origanum
- 7ml dried thyme
- pinch of salt
Dry-roast the sesame seeds over a gentle heat until just coloured, then leave them to cool. Using a pestle and mortar or small coffee grinder, grind the thyme and origanum to a fine powder. Add the sesame seeds to the mixture, then store in a sealed jar. The flavours will remain fresh for a day or two but will begin to fade rapidly thereafter.
If you can get hold of some, the addition of 7ml sumac to the above mixture would made the za’atar more authentic and enhance the overall complexity of its flavour.