Happy impending spring everyone! I am so ready for the longer and warmer days, flowers blooming, and a bonus this year, I’ve got cute little bunnies in my backyard! I don’t know where they came from, but they they have found their home in my yard, hopping around and munching on the grass. They are too adorable to shoo away, so I guess I will have to deal with holes in my lawn this year. Another welcome surprise, getting to share the benefits and uses of za’atar on Fox News for Arab Heritage Month– the month of April.
I chose za’atar for this televised segment because it is ubiquitous in every Arab household. My 99 year old grandmother eats za’atar every morning to this day and she is still going strong. My mother ate za’atar for breakfast for mental alertness in school, and she ended up with straight As and was crowned the class valedictorian. I’m not saying this spice mix will make you a Rhodes Scholar or a centenarian, but judging from my family’s longevity and alertness, I think they might be onto something. For those uninitiated, Za’atar is a zesty Middle Eastern spice mix containing the za’atar plant, sumac, sesame seeds and salt. Traditionally people of the Levant eat za’atar for breakfast by dipping pita bread into a robust olive oil followed by the za’atar, perhaps sprinkled on eggs or kefir (labneh) cheese. Palestinians believe za’atar not only enhances mental alertness, but that it also has medicinal properties, from fighting inflammation to eradicating the common cold.
But the flavor goes far beyond anything you would find in a medicine cabinet. The culinary possibilities of this spice are endless. You can use za’atar as a healthy dip or dressing for vegetables by mixing a couple of tablespoons of za’atar with some Greek yogurt and light mayonnaise, which sure beats those chemical filled packages of powdered salad dressing. This also makes a great spice rub for meats, and can add a zesty flavor to homemade pita chips.
Za’atar is readily available in Middle Eastern markets, as well as some good organic fair-trade varieties online. Making your own fresh za’atar is quite easy. As it is rare to find the za’atar plant outside of the Levant, you can use substitutes. My favorite is the savory spice, which has hints of rosemary, oregano and thyme. You can use dried thyme or oregano if you wish. The spice blend is tangy from the sumac, nutty from the sesame seeds, and robust from the savory.
To check out the myriad of ways I use za’atar and how easy it is to make, click on my new video below!
4 tablespoons ground thyme or savory
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
4 teaspoons ground sumac*
1 teaspoon coarse salt
Combine spices and store in a cool dry place and use within two months.