By Carlynn Woolsey, Foodable Contributor
In the cold throes of winter, adding a bit of warm spice to a dish is oh-so-nice, especially when in the form of za’atar. Za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice blend with a tangy flavor profile, which is expected to be trendy in the months ahead. Given that cuisine from Israel and Turkey in particular are predicted to be big in 2014, it should come as no surprise that mainstay seasonings from this part of the world are also on the rise. These seasonings include sumac (a component of za’atar), harissa, Ras El Hanout (another spice blend, used more in specialty dishes than in everyday ones), and Marash peppers, with za’atar emerging from the pack as the hottest ingredient around.
Varied & Versatile Blends
Za’atar has been prepared in Middle Eastern kitchens since the 13th century, with recipes varying regionally and even from family to family within each region, depending on preferences. The base mixture, however, is some combination of sumac, thyme, toasted sesame seeds and sea salt, with an emphasis on the thyme. In the Arabic language, the word za’atar literally means 'thyme.’ In Israel, dill is a popular addition to the mix. While in Lebanon, where za’atar is eaten most frequently at breakfast, fragrant citrus notes such as orange zest are more common additions. In Jordan, meanwhile, za’atar is typically a deep red color, given the ratio of sumac.
No matter the specific blend, za’atar is a versatile spice to work with. It makes for an excellent dip when stirred into olive oil or yogurt. The olive oil mixture can be spread atop flatbread before baking as well. When roasted with root vegetables or massaged into cuts of beef, chicken or lamb, za’atar imparts zip. Some people even eat the blend straight, proclaiming its addictive nature. Health-conscious eaters will receive a lot of bang for their buck with za’atar because it enhances the taste of food so much without upping the calorie count. Believe it or not, this spice blend exhibits antioxidant and anti-fungal properties too, so za’atar is sometimes prescribed as an all-natural cold remedy.
Blend Your Own
While you can certainly purchase pre-blended za’atar in most markets, you can just as easily make your own version at home by grinding sumac, thyme, toasted sesame seeds and sea salt with a mortar and pestle, or in a food processor; you might consider adding oregano or marjoram. When stored in an airtight container set in a cool, dark place, the mixture will keep for up to 6 months.
Looking for an easy dish to make with your za’atar? Try this recipe for a take on traditional hummus!
Za’atar Spiced Hummus
(Makes Approximately 2 Cups)
1 16-Ounce Can Garbanzo Beans
½ Lemon, Zested and Juiced
1 Garlic Clove, Crushed
1 Teaspoon Tahini Paste
1 Teaspoon Za’atar
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Combine all of the ingredients in a high-speed blender or food processor, and pulse until smooth. Serve with chips, crackers and/or vegetables.