Home > Blog Posts, Recipes > Za’atar: the Herbal Mix Missing from Grocery Stores

Za’atar: the Herbal Mix Missing from Grocery Stores

I first encountered za’atar, a Middle Eastern herb and sesame seed mix, in Israel while visiting a Kibbutz 12 years. The herbal mix was sprinkled into olive oil, or yogurt (labneh) to dip bread in. I had never seen some of the herbs in it in grocery stores, like sumac and hyssop. I just thought of sumac as poison sumac and didn’t know of the non-poisonous variety until then. Hyssop is nearly impossible to find, because it is labeled as an endangered plant. So I nearly forgot about Za’atar until I encountered it again at a food allergy friendly, Syrian cafe, Aissa Sweets, in Concord, NH. They sold za’atar rolls and za’atar cheese wraps, that were absolutely delicious.

The sumac gives the mix a of herbs and sesame seeds a tangy flavor different than the traditional herbs found in American supermarkets. Recipes to make za’atar are available on the internet. There are a lot of variations on the herbs that can be included in the mix. Since hyssop is not available, thyme is a common ingredient. Some recipes include cumin, and many have oregano. Sumac and sesame seeds really make the za’atar more authentic.

If you don’t want to make it from scratch, za’atar can be found in Middle Eastern grocery stores, Cost Plus World Market, Penzey’s Spices, and in online stores like Amazon.com. However, some versions look like they may not be as authentic tasting as others, because sumac is not listed in the ingredients. There were two versions sold at Cost Plus World Market. One said it had thyme and other spices in it. The one in the ziploc bag had the sumac listed in the ingredients.

In addition to dipping bread in za’atar and olive oil or labneh. The herbal mix is great to cook with. It is easy to make a za’atar bread by substituting za’atar for other herbs. I like using the Rosemary bread recipe for my bread machine. Instead of Rosemary, I substitute the same amount of Za’atar.

Because sumac is tangy, it goes well with other sour flavors like lemon and feta cheese. You can easily make something similar to Aissa Sweets’ wrap at home by mixing mozzarella cheese and feta cheese with za’atar and placing the mix on top of a pizza crust, or inside a wrap. Pizza crust without soy can be found at Target, Walmart, and other grocery stores. I have even found an uncooked pizza dough in the biscuit section that I was able to use to make an appetizer like cheese stuffed triangles. Phyllo dough frequently is made without soy, too. You can try making a dish with za’atar like lasagna, a calzone, bureka, Tiropita, or other cheese pies. If you can’t eat cheese, you can also sprinkle it on top of a pizza crust to make a Foccacia bread.

Za’atar is commonly used in a roasted chicken recipe with lemon. Here’s a great recipe for grilled za’atar chicken that works well for baking or roasting the chicken, too.



Categories: Blog Posts, Recipes
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