Q. I’ve encountered the term za’atar seasoning on menus and have also seen it in ethnic food markets. I know it’s a blend of some spices but don’t know how one would use it. Any suggestions?
A. We’ve seen this seasoning blend as well, and usually in a Middle Eastern Market. The blend has sesame seeds in it and also the brick-red sumac also used in cooking from these regions. The third element to this mixture is what is interesting — it’s an aromatic variety of marjoram (M. syriaca) which is common in Jordon, Lebanon and Israel, says Aliza Green in her thorough “Field Guide to Herbs and Spices.” This marjoram is also called by the name “za’atar.”
In the countries mentioned above, the flavor is common in grilled lamb and flatbread and is often mixed with sumac, says Green, to spread on pita bread. We’ve also seen za’atar sprinkled on hummus or tossed into a salad of garbanzo beans, slivered green onion and tomato or sprinkled over feta cheese. You can also put it on a plate, pour over some olive oil and use it as a dipping sauce with pita bread.
Recently, we ordered a small plate at Feast Restaurant on Alamo Street in San Antonio’s King William area. Chef Stefan Bowers sprinkles the za’tar mixture on some tasty Ground Lamb Kebabs, then serves with a slightly spicy serrano feta dip, to good effect.
If you want to make your own blend, try Green’s blend, which she also suggests mixing with yogurt and using as a dip for raw vegetables: Combine 2 tablespoons dried crushed za’atar leaves (or crushed thyme, summer savory, oregano, marjoram or a mixture). Add 2 tablespoons roasted sesame seeds and 1 tablespoon ground sumac. Grind to a chunky paste and season wil a little salt, to taste. Store at room temperature. Za’atar’s flavor will begin to face after 2 months. Makes 1/3 cup. (From “Field Guide to Herbs and Spices.”)