Zaatar is a popular spice blend in Middle-Eastern cuisines — those of Syria and Lebanon in particular –, made with thyme, toasted sesame seeds, sumac, and salt. (Note: The Arabic word also means simply “thyme”, and is sometimes transcribed as za’atar, zahtar, or zatar.)
As with all generic spice blends, the flavor profile of this one will vary according to where its components came from, who mixed them, and how long ago, but a good zaatar should greet you first with an acidulated citrus smell that tickles the nose, before nutty, fruity, and grilled notes join the chorus, reaching further into the back of your mouth with an appetite-whetting effect.
A short stay in the oven turns the pita wedges into crisp and golden versions of themselves that make for a fine appetizer alongside roasted or pickled vegetables, or the dip of your choice.
Zaatar is among my favorite magic wands: it works wonders in grated carrot salads and lentil soups, I sprinkle it on fresh cheese or blend it with yogurt, I use it as an herb crust for racks of lamb or rub it on fish to be baked or grilled, and I’ve been meaning to follow Estérelle’s example and use it in a caramelized onion tart.
But the simplest way to make zaatar shine is to combine it with a good olive oil and produce a thick paste that will be spread on bread dough (manakish-style) or pitas, as described below: a short stay in the oven turns the pita wedges into crisp and golden versions of themselves that make for a fine appetizer alongside roasted or pickled vegetables, , or the dip of your choice.
And for an even quicker preparation, you can just serve bite-size pieces of bread, a cup of olive oil, and a saucer of zaatar, and have your guests dip the bread lightly in the olive oil, then in the zaatar. Easy, interactive, and tasty.
Zaatar can be purchased from Middle-Eastern markets and spice shops; in Paris, look for it at Izraëlor Hératchian. Keep in mind that some blends are more salty than others, so taste yours first and use accordingly.
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- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons zaatar
- 2 large pita rounds (the kind that's about 20 cm or 8" in diameter) or 4 small ones
- Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).
- Combine the olive oil and zaatar in a small bowl, stirring with a teaspoon to emulsify. Cut the pitas open all around the rims with kitchen scissors and slip your hand inside gently to separate the two layers without tearing.
- Spread the zaatar mixture on the coarse sides of the pitas with the back of the spoon, cut the pita disks into wedges, and arrange in a single layer on a cookie sheet.
- Bake for 4 or 5 minutes, until the wedges start to turn golden, keeping a close eye on them. Let cool for a minute and serve, warm or at room temperature.