Za’atar is the Arabic name for wild thyme (thymbra spicata). But it is also the name of one of the most flavoursome herb and spice mixes from the countries of the Middle East. Its constituents varies from region to region. At its simplest it is thyme or oregano mixed with sumac, toasted sesame seeds, and salt. However, it can also contain any mixture of thyme, oregano and marjoram, savoury, cumin, ground caraway seeds, corriander and chilli flakes. It will always contain some aromatic herb, salt and sumac.
Za’atar, both the herb and the condiment, is popular in Algeria, Armenia, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, and Turkey
Za’atar (zahatar or zaatar) can be used in a multitude of ways. I like to use it in salads to add a piquant, herby, spicy tangy taste. It is used to dress labneh (extra strained Greek yoghurt); mixed with olive oil and spread on Arabic flat bread before being grilled for 5-10 min; sprinkled over hummus or baba ganoush; sprinkled into a little heated olive oil before being poured over brine-less olives.
Rhea Yablon Kennedy tells us that you can add it to spinach turnovers and pizza, and that for a savory supper, the mixture can be added to marinades for grilled or roasted vegetables. Za’atar seasoning, she says, can even go festive in a party dip:
‘Start with a labneh and za’atar combination (mix together), then add fresh garlic, feta cheese, and olive oil. Puree in a food processor, allow to chill for a few hours, and serve with pita chips and vegetable crudites.’