I’ve been excited to publish this post for some time now. First because it honors one of my favorite things to eat: za’atar and because it is the recipe I chose to use to launch a new series of cooking videos that I am working on with my childhood friend, Tanya Marar. I can safely say that making this video and the one to follow (hint: rice pudding) has been the most fun I’ve had in a very long time. I think video is the perfect medium to showcase a recipe and I can’t wait for you to watch this short video about making za’atar and hear your thoughts! It’s linked just a few lines down.
But wait, first, let’s talk za’atar…
Za’atar a blend of thyme, sumac and sesame has been in my life for so long, I can’t even remember the first time I tried it. Whether it was sandwiched between layers of pita bread as a school snack, baked into mana’eesh, a flat bread that is topped with za’atar and tons of piping hot olive oil, or simply with labaneh and fresh cut tomatoes and cucumbers, za’atar has been a very big part of my life. I remember how my mother used to insist on feeding me za’atar for breakfast before exams as a child. Her mother did that to her too and probably every Middle Eastern mother. “Apparently” za’atar opens up the mind and makes one think clearer. I’m not sure if it’s the tangy kick but I think it works.
In Jordan we are known for making very good za’atar. The ingredients that go into it grow in the wild and are heavily concentrated with flavor. The variety of thyme that we use to make za’atar is called Wooly Thyme (picture below). The leaves are flat and large with a velvety surface. The leaves pack a punch which give the za’atar blend a sharp spiciness that is balanced out by the sour tang of sumac and the not-so-subtle sweet nuttiness of the sesame. When mixed together the ingredients manage to combine the sweet, sour, salty and spicy, the hallmark of any good za’atar.
4 cups Crushed thyme* or za’atar as we call it in the Middle East
1 ½ tsp Salt
2 Tbsp Extra virgin olive oil
1 – 1½ cups Untoasted sesame (depending on how much you love sesame!)
4 Tbsp Sumac
*To dry the thyme/ za’atar:
If you do not have a drier/ dehydrator this is the best way to dry thyme:
First, wash the fresh thyme very well. Ensuring that all mud and dust has been cleaned off the leaves.
Next, pat the leaves dry and pick them off the stems.
Lay the leaves in a thin layer on some tea towels and allow to dry for several days.
Once the leaves shrivel up and crinkle they are ready to be transformed into delicious za’atar.
To make the za’atar mix:
In a food processor, place the thyme leaves and pulse until they turn into a light green power.
Place the crushed thyme into a bowl and add the salt. Mix well.
Next, slowly add the olive oil and rub into the thyme, making sure it blends with the entire mixture. This step allows the salt and thyme to marry while the olive oil deepens the flavor of the thyme and gives it its distinctive color.
Next, toast the sesame until golden brown and add to the za’atar mix while it is still hot. This allows the nutty oil extracts of the sesame to bind with the za’atar. Finally, add the sumac and mix well.
Place the za’atar in airtight jars. If you plan to make a lot of za’atar you can refrigerate the jars until ready to use.
Za’atar can usually last for several months, although it always runs out a few weeks later in my household and a new batch is made.
Credits (in alphabetical order):
Leen Al Zaben: Producer, Stylist & Recipe Developmet
Omar Sawalha: Editor
Sarah Dajani: Co-producer
Tanya Marar: Producer & Director of Photography
Music: Il Hilwa Di by Magic Carpet (please note that I do not own any rights to the music used in the video).