Tuesday, September 12, 2006
I've added za'atar to my ever-growing Middle Eastern/North African food vocabulary (see previous entries on harissa, charmoula, and muhammara). I'm discovering this cuisine to be all about the condiments!
Recipes for this simple spice mix vary--I used sumac, thyme, toasted sesame seeds and a pinch of kosher salt. Lemony, sweet sumac contrasts with the smoky sesame seeds, and definitely stands at the heart of the mix. Rusty red sumac derives from the berries of the plant with the same name. Essential to Middle Eastern cooking, it was also used by the Romans before lemons were available to them. You can buy it online from Penzey's.
Most often the spices are mixed with a bit of olive oil and used as a dip for pita bread. I sprinkled mine over sauteed zucchini one night, mixed it in a couscous salad the next.
I came across recipes that added cumin, marjoram and paprika, so feel free to experiment
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
1 tbsp. ground sumac
1 tsp. sesame seeds, toasted
pinch of salt
Mix ingredients together. If you want a bit more integration, you can crush gently in a mortar and pestle like I did. Some recipes recommend blitzing the mix in a spice or coffee grinder, but I wanted to preserve the shape of the sesame seeds.