What Is Za'atar and How Do You Use It?
Not many spice blends are versatile enough to be rubbed onto lamb and sprinkled over popcorn, but za'atar is the spice cabinet hero that can do it all.
If you aren't already familiar with za'atar, clear out some room in your spice cabinet because this herby blend deserves a front row spot. This Middle Eastern mix of dried herbs and spices is a glorious combination of earthy, nutty, zesty, and tangy flavors, and it goes on just about anything.
Here's everything you need to know about this dynamic blend:
What Is Za'atar?
While many people now associate the word za'atar with the spice mix, it is the Arabic word for a wild, mint-related herb that is a pillar of Levantine cooking and similar to oregano and marjoram.
Since the herb can be difficult to find, za'atar is commonly made from dried thyme, oregano, sumac, and sesame seeds. But the recipes vary depending on what region they're from, with each household having their own special blend. Some za'atar recipes also contain salt, marjoram, sumac berries, dried dill, dried orange zest, caraway seeds, or hyssop.
How to Make Za'atar at Home
To make your own za'atar blend, mix together dried thyme, oregano, sumac, and lightly toasted sesame seeds. There's no rule for how much of each to include, but a good guide to follow is equal measurements of all ingredients. Feel free to experiment and discover what ratio tastes best to you.
If you are adding salt to your mixture, be conservative. It's easy to over season a dish when using salted spice mixes, so you're better off adding salt separately.
Traditionally za'atar is made by drying fresh herbs in the sun, but store-bought dried herbs will do the trick. When buying dried herbs, though, look for ones that are bright in color as that indicates freshness and flavor. The same goes for buying a pre-made za'atar blend — seek out one that is vibrant, not dull and clumped.
Cooking With Za'atar
Some spice mixes are one-trick ponies, but the uses for za'atar are endless. Often it is baked into flatbread, mixed with olive oil or tahini to make a dip, tossed into salads, rubbed onto meat, or sprinkled over hummus.
If you are using za'atar in a cold dish or any preparation that it will not be heated up in, first bloom it to unlock all of its flavor. To do so, heat up oil or butter in a skillet, take it off the heat and then add the za'atar. This gently fries the spices and herbs, which releases fat-soluble compounds and evenly distributes flavor.
Ready to try it for yourself? Here are some of our readers' favorite ways to use za'atar:
It doesn't get more classic than this. Yeasty rolls are brushed with olive oil and za'atar before being quickly baked in a piping hot oven until golden brown.
In this recipe, za'atar is used to liven up simple roasted potatoes.
More is better when it comes to za'atar in this recipe. Some chicken brands inject brine into the meat to add extra plumpness, so it's best to use an unsalted za'atar blend and salt to taste.
Movie theater popcorn will never be good enough after trying this buttery za'atar version.