What is Za’atar? More 3 Za’atar Recipe Ideas

LLong before I started cooking, I knew how important it was to spice up your life… courtesy of Baby, Scary, Sporty, Ginger and Posh. The gratuitous mention of Spice Girls aside, in terms of spice in the culinary sense, I really only started making my own meals when I moved to Tel Aviv after college. I was lucky enough to live just a few blocks from Shuk HaCarmel, the city’s famous open-air food market, and one of the first spices I added to my pantry was za’atar: a delicious, earthy concoction that I enjoyed on a few occasions. one of my favorite Middle Eastern dishes.

Truthfully, I never really thought about what spices za’atar contained, or what benefits a shake here and a dash there might offer. But in the spirit of going back over my early culinary memories and covering the basics for those who haven’t tried za’atar, I asked Rachael Hartley, RD, LD, dietitian and author of gentle nutrition, to share some essential ideas. And then: some recipes that I hope will inspire you to try za’atar on your own foodie adventures.

First, what is za’atar?

“Za’atar is a blend of spices made from the herbal plant za’atar, or thyme or oregano, which are closely related, mixed with sesame seeds, sumac, and salt,” says Hartley. She reiterates that za’atar is commonly used in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines, noting that different cultures (and cooks within each culture) often employ variations to make their own unique blends.

Flavor-wise, Hartley describes it as “herbal and slightly lemony from the sumac with a nutty, earthy hint from the toasted sesame seeds.” (And with that, my mouth is officially watering.) “My favorite way to use za’atar is as a garnish, to enhance the flavor of foods after cooking,” adds Hartley. “An easy way to enjoy za’atar is to drizzle it over hummus, which adds a punch of flavor to a simple spread. It’s also delicious baked on a pita, sprinkled over a salad or bowl of cereal, or over roasted vegetables, grilled meats, or seafood.”

Za’atar Health Benefits

“Because za’atar is eaten in small amounts, it is not an ingredient that provides significant amounts of vitamins and minerals,” Hartley explains. While a dash now and then won’t have the same amount of nutrients as, say, a spinach and berry smoothie you drink daily, that doesn’t mean the spice mix is ​​devoid of nutritional value. In fact, quite the opposite. “That said, the herbs in za’atar contain phytonutrients like anthocyanins and flavonoids, which have antioxidant effects,” Hartley continues. “Sesame seeds also provide small amounts of healthy monounsaturated fats and bone-building minerals like calcium, magnesium, and zinc.”

To date, there is no research specifically investigating the bioactivity of the entire za’atar mixture, which is quite surprising given that it has been an integral part of the cuisine of many cultures throughout history. (Not to mention, the Mediterranean diet is among the most studied eating plans in the world, with loads of research supporting its potential to help prevent disease, promote longevity, etc.)

However, according to a March 2022 review in the Functional Food Journal By detailing the individual components of za’atar, this spice blend has the potential to promote far-reaching benefits to your health. In summary, the combined action of za’atar components, which have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antidiabetic effects, can “modulate intestinal microbiota, oxidative stress, chronic inflammation and obesity”, but the exact amount needed for the performance of such benefits is still unknown, so more studies are needed. In any case, za’atar certainly shows promise for promoting wellness and reducing the risk of developing major health problems, so make yourself a solid by spicing up your life (err… pantry) with this Middle Eastern staple.

3 Delicious Recipes Using Za’atar

1. Roasted Cauliflower with Golden Raisins

Photo: Rachael Hartley, RD

In Hartley’s own roasted cauliflower with za’atar recipe, she recommends cutting the cauliflower into small pieces; tossing them in olive oil; and sprinkle za’atar, salt, and pepper before roasting at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 to 30 minutes, flipping the florets halfway through. Once they’re nice and crisp, add the golden raisins. Hartley notes that they’re a particularly rich source of kaempferol, “an antioxidant flavonoid that’s been linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer,” as well as a good source of fiber, potassium, and iron.

Get the Recipe: Za’atar Roasted Cauliflower with Golden Raisins

2. Israeli burgers with fattoush salad

Photo: Jamie Geller

Celebrity chef, cookbook author, and businesswoman Jamie Geller sells her own za’atar mix, which she uses in dozens of her kosher recipes like this one for burgers and fattoush salad. The burgers couldn’t be easier to make, requiring only ground beef or chicken, za’atar, and olive oil. Meanwhile, sumac and lemon add brightness and tartness to fattoush salad, a staple in Levantine kitchens and one of my favorites, which she recommends packing into toasted mini pitas once the patties are browned on both sides and ready to serve. enjoy.

Get the recipe: Israeli Burgers with Fattoush Salad

3. Lebanese Za’atar

Photo: Alexandra Grablewski

In the mood to make your own za’atar mix from scratch? Check out this traditional Old World Lebanese take on za’atar from chef and cookbook author Julie Ann Sageer, aka Julie Taboulie. It only requires four ingredients: dried wild thyme or Greek oregano, sumac spice, sesame seeds, and sea salt. Finely grind the wild thyme (or oregano) and sumac spice before mixing with the toasted sesame seeds and salt. Sageer writes that she uses this simple but delicious blend of spices for delicacies like man’oushe (flatbread), labneh (strained yogurt), and Shanklish (yogurt cheese balls).

Get the recipe: Lebanese Za’atar

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