There’s a miraculous spice blend in the Arab world that is not only versatile in seasoning a variety of foods, but is also touted as an herbal remedy. That spice blend is za’atar. Za’atar is a zesty Middle Eastern spice mix containing savory (or thyme,) sumac, sesame seeds and salt. This spice is extremely popular in Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. Many Arab mothers believe a spoonful of za’atar a day keeps the doctor away, while students eat za’atar for breakfast for mental alertness and acuity. Whether eaten with bread and olive oil for breakfast, baked into a flatbread, or sprinkled on eggs, this zesty spice adds an earthy and savory flavor. Palestinians in particular believe za’atar fights all kinds of inflammation, and is effective in eradicating the common cold. But the flavor of za’atar goes far beyond anything you would find in a medicine cabinet and the culinary possibilities of this spice are endless. Because of its earthy flavor, za’atar works particularly well with roasted root vegetables, like potatoes.
There is a definite technique you can take to ensure the perfect roast potatoes, and the following recipe includes all of the steps you need to ensure the potatoes get a crispy and golden brown exterior, with a creamy and buttery interior. Yukon Golds are the perfect roasting potatoes, because their waxiness and starchiness yields the perfect texture when baked. They are also uniform in size ensuring consistent baking, and they are inexpensive and easy to find in any market.
Za’atar is readily available in Middle Eastern and Arab markets, as well as some good organic fair-trade varieties online. For this particular recipe, I used authentic Palestinian za’atar and extra virgin olive oil from the PalBox. The Palbox is a subscription service where you can get fair trade food, art, and jewlery, supporting Palestinians who are struggling to survive. Right now you can use code BLANCHE10 to get 10% off your first PalBox–just go to http://www.palbox.org for more information. To see the complete technique on how to make the perfect za’atar roasted potatoes, as well as more on the contents of the PalBox, click on my brand new video below:
Roasted Potatoes with Za’atar Spice
- 1 ½ pounds yukon gold potatoes (peeled or unpeeled, your preference)
- ½ tsp baking soda
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 6 cloves garlic
- A few sprigs fresh thyme
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 tbsp za’atar spice: https://amzn.to/37fQ1zs
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. First, parboil the potatoes. Boil about a liter of water in a large pot, and add the baking soda and salt to taste. The baking soda will make the water more alkaline, which will breakdown the starch, so it will caramelize more during baking. Boil the potatoes for 10 minutes, then drain. When potatoes are cool enough, cut into quarters. In a skillet add the olive oil and heat for about a minute. Add the garlic and thyme and saute 2 minutes then remove from the heat. Using a sieve, strain the olive oil into the potatoes, reserving the garlic and thyme for later. Toss the garlic oil with the potatoes, season with salt and pepper, and place them on a baking sheet, making sure the potatoes have space between them. This will ensure the potatoes will brown, instead of steam if the potatoes are too close together. Place the potatoes on the top rack, and bake for 15 minutes. Then take the potatoes out and flip them over. Bake another 15 minutes. As soon as the potatoes are done, toss with the reserved thyme and garlic, then sprinkle with za’atar. Serve immediately.
And a quick reminder!
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This hardback book has over 200 pages of authentic Middle Eastern recipes from Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Morocco, and Egypt, along with ingredient information and recipe history. Makes a great gift for any foodies in your life, or YOU!