Marcel Proust had his madeleines to spark recollections of his youth. For me, opening a container of za’atar releases, along with its verdant aroma, memories of strolling through the narrow alleyways and open air plazas of the Old City of Jerusalem, where golden light caresses ancient stone. The Middle Eastern scent also stimulates my appetite for fresh-from-the-oven pita spread with za’atar and olive oil.
The za’atar that we know from its association with labneh and hummus on mezze plates is a condiment made from a mix of spices, herbs, and seeds, and the recipe varies from place to place.
But in fact, the name za’atar also applies to a family of related herbs that grow in the Middle East: oregano, savory, marjoram, thyme. I think it most closely resembles oregano, at least the bush that grows in my garden.
It’s really easy to mix your own za’atar if you can’t get it locally, or if you simply love the idea of making something from scratch. Just mix the following ingredients together:
- 1/4 cup sumac
- 2 tablespoons thyme
- 1 tablespoon roasted sesame seeds
- 2 tablespoons marjoram
- 2 tablespoons oregano
- 1 teaspoon coarse salt