Za'atar: A Spice For Your Everyday

by Karen on Tuesday, July 12, 2011

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I'm keeping it simple lately.  There's the excuse of moving into a new place, but really I think it's the summer heat that's slowing everything down.  It's times like these that I gladly partake in culinary cheating (more about this below) and that I have a jar of za'atar handy at all times.  Za'atar is thyme in Arabic but za'atar is also the name of a spice mixture that contains dried wild thyme.  It is very popular throughout Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan with each region having its own take on this everyday spice.

Za'atar is sold everywhere and used in many dishes, sometimes practically eaten straight and other times subtly sprinkled as a finish.  Za'atar can include a variety of ingredients, but a common combination includes the addition of sesame seeds and ground sumac, a sour spice that is reddish-purple in color.  The ratio of spices used depends on personal preference but I've found a ratio I like and always use.  You can also find za'atar mix already prepared in Middle Eastern markets but making your own ensures freshness and is very easy to do.

So how does one use za'atar?  I've seen it used as a paste, mixed with olive oil, and sopped up with bread or as a rub on poultry or sprinkled in some labneh (thick strained yogurt).  Pretty much anything goes with this multi-purpose spice and once you have a taste of its bright, woodsy and nutty flavor I suggest you get creative with how you use your za'atar!

My favorite way to use it is in manoushe, a popular Lebanese yeast flatbread.  Za'atar manoushe is the baked flatbread slathered with a za'atar/olive oil paste and sometimes topped with a lightly tossed salad of greens.  And here's when I get lazy… instead of making this dough from scratch, which is how I'd typically roll, I buy pre-made pizza dough and bake it off on a pizza stone.

I'm cringing at my admitting to cheating authenticity right now, especially with something as commonplace and cherished as manoushe.  But, making it from scratch is tacking on a few more hours to this super simple and fresh recipe.  It is a perfect summertime meal and a much more interesting version of that trendy pizza-salad-thingy. 'Pizza-salad-thingy' is the official name in case you were wondering.

Za'atar

– 1/4 cup of dried thyme
– 1/4 cup of sesame seeds
– 1 tbsp of sumac

Or

1 part dried thyme, 1 part sesame seeds and 1/4 part sumac

Lightly toast your sesame seeds in a pan and then add to the thyme.  Add the sumac and mix together.  Store in an air-tight container in a dark place with all your other spices.  This makes enough for about 3 large manoushe.

Za'atar Manoushe

za'atar paste (about 4 spoonfuls of za'atar and 3 spoonfuls of extra-virgin olive oil mixed together/per manoushe)
– pre-made pizza dough
– a bundle of purslane, stems cut.  You can also substitute with arugula which has a similar peppery flavor*
– a handful of whole mint leaves*
– a few small tomatoes, halved*
– juice of half a small lemon
– a big glug of extra-virgin olive oil
– kosher or sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

*Feel free to play around with these salad ingredients.  Maybe some olives or some French feta…

Pre-heat your oven as high as it will go with your pizza stone or a baking sheet in the oven set on the highest rack.  Let it get super hot by leaving it in there for at least 15 minutes.  In the meantime roll out your already-rested-pizza dough thinly on a lightly floured surface.  I usually use my hands and let gravity stretch the dough thin, but a rolling pin is helpful too.

Take the stone out of the oven and with a peel or dexterous hands, slide your dough onto the hot stone.  Quickly spread the za'atar paste all over the surface and sprinkle a bit of salt over the top.  Place it back in the oven.  Bake according to the package, typically about 15 minutes in my oven, or until it gets nice a toasty.

Toss the purslane and mint leaves together with a simple dressing of lemon juice, extra-virgin olive oil and a good pinch of salt and pepper.

Put the salad on top of the bread and add some fresh summer tomatoes.

Enjoy!

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{ 18 comments }

Lan July 12, 2011 at 6:29 am

can i just tell you what a fan i am of purslane and to see it in this dish & not in a salad is so refreshing.

if it makes you feel any better about cheating, i wouldn’t bother with even rolling out the dough, i would just buy some crusty bread already made & taken it from there…

Karen July 19, 2011 at 9:02 pm

O ya I cheat like that way too… nothing wrong with that 😉

Joyti July 12, 2011 at 10:12 am

I discovered za’atar just a few months ago, love. I like a bit of extra sumac in mine.
And your Za’atar Manoushe looks wonderful…such a great fresh summer meal.

Kulsum at JourneyKitchen July 12, 2011 at 11:22 am

I LOVE Zaaatar. Its a must in my spice cabinet. I pretty much put it over everything 😉 but I particularly like making zaatar chicken which I think is fabulous. And certainly bread loves zaatar. Your Manoushe looks amazing!

Karen July 19, 2011 at 9:03 pm

thanks Kulsum, o yes yes roasted chicken, in fact I’m making that tomorrow!

Deana July 12, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Love this idea! Looks delicious!

Tanvi@SinfullySpicy July 12, 2011 at 1:59 pm

Love Zaatar..Pairs perfectly with some ghee & steamed basmati rice for me..Thanks for the recipe..need to make my own batch sometime.

Karen July 19, 2011 at 9:04 pm

I’ve never tried za’atar with rice but I can imagine it would be tasty

Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen July 13, 2011 at 3:49 am

I like to keep it simple in the summer as well and this looks like just the perfect thing to have on hand.

Nadia July 13, 2011 at 9:26 am

I have a huge sack of Lebanese zaatar in my pantry. I love it dusted on just about anything. I was just in Dubai, so I ate a ton of manakeesh. It’s one of my favorite foods, especially with mint, purslane, radishes, etc.

Karen July 19, 2011 at 9:05 pm

I hope you had a good trip! Radishes would’ve been a great addition

Kazia Jankowski July 13, 2011 at 9:29 am

What a great ingredient to have on hand! You’re ‘Pizza-Salad-Thingy’ looks delicious!

kankana July 14, 2011 at 11:41 pm

wow .. i never heard of this. Now see , this is what I love about blogging.. there is learning at every click! I have to make this.. this looks good!

Karen July 19, 2011 at 9:05 pm

Thanks– i love that about blogging too– learn so much from others 🙂

deana@lostpastremembered July 17, 2011 at 8:07 am

Ok, I officially love you. Zatar is one of my absolute fav flavors. I keep a giant bag of it in the pantry and often make a quick flatbread to dunk in zatar olive oil… the veggie combo with the purslane is just brilliant. I can’t wait to try it. I will keep your recipe for zatar too…and try it when my bag runs out!

Karen July 19, 2011 at 9:05 pm

Haha well glad it’s official!

orly @yumivore July 19, 2011 at 12:10 am

A taste of home!

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