If you’re into Middle Eastern cooking, you’ve surely heard about zaatar. Zaatar is a true all rounder in Arab cuisine. From bread, meat, vegetables to spreads, there’s hardly anything that doesn’t go well with zaatar.
While you can find zaatar spice blend in most Middle Eastern grocery stores, you can also make your own with just a few ingredients. Let me introduce you to the usages of zaatar and how to make zaatar at home.
What is Zaatar?
Zaatar (za’atar) is the most popular spice blend in Middle Eastern cuisine. It consists of a combination of dried herbs, mostly thyme, oregano, sesame seeds and sumac. Zaatar has a savory and slightly nutty flavor profile. It can be used for anything from seasoning meats, breads, vegetables, salads and sauces, as well as for garnish.
Originally Middle Eastern, Zaatar spice has become increasingly popular in recent years. The craze for Za’atar is partly thanks to chefs like Ottolenghi or Jamie Oliver who are bringing this iconic Middle Eastern spice blend into households around the world.
Zaatar is not only extremely delicious, it’s also very healthy. Thanks to its main ingredients, zaatar is antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and rich in vitamins and minerals.
- Dried thyme: Thyme is the main ingredient of zaatar. In fact, za’atar translates to thyme in Arabic. Use dried thyme for your zaatar blend. You can buy it in any grocery store or make it from fresh thyme by yourself. See additional tips below for home-made dried herbs.
- Sesame seeds: Sesame seeds are the second most important ingredient to zaatar. They release their full flavor when you toast them beforehand. However, you can also add raw sesame seeds (untoasted) to the mixture.
- Sumac: Sumac is a Middle Eastern spice. It’s made from fried ground stone fruits. Fresh sumac berries are hard to find beyond the Middle East, for which reason I’m using ground sumac in this recipe that is readily available. You can find the ground spice in any Middle Eastern grocery store. High-quality sumac can be identified by its reddish shimmer.
- Dried oregano: Dried oregano compliments the flavor of dried thyme without overpowering it. Same as with thyme, you can buy dried oregano or make it from fresh herbs by yourself. See additional tips below for home-made dried herbs.
- Coriander seeds: Coriander has a floral and slightly sweet note which brings your zaatar to the next level. You’ll achieve the best taste when making coriander powder yourself (by toasting and grinding coriander seeds). Alternatively, use coriander powder. You’ll find information on both methods below.
- Salt: A pinch of salt is all you need. I generally use fine salt. If you have coarse salt, I recommend that you grind it before you add it to your mixture.
Note: Quantities can be found in the recipe card at the end of this recipe.
How to Make Zaatar (Step-by-Step)
There are many variations of za’atar. Every region and even every family has their own way of preparing it. I’m going to show you my zaatar recipe the way I make it.
Step 1: Toast coriander and sesame seeds
Start off by toasting sesame seeds and coriander seeds together in a skillet over medium heat for about 3-4 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent them from browning too much. Once they are done, set them aside for about 15 minutes.
Step 2: Grind
Once cooled, transfer the toasted coriander and sesame to a grinder. Add dried thyme and dried oregano. If you don’t have a grinder, you can use a pestle and mortar instead. Grind for 1-2 minutes.
Step 3: Mix with ground spices
Add grinded spices to a mixing bowl. Add salt and sumac powder to the mixture. Stir well to combine.
Step 4: Transfer and store
Transfer the zaatar mixture into an airtight container or spice jar.
How to Use Zaatar
Zaatar is a true allrounder in Middle Eastern cuisine! There are many usages of zaatar, from raw to cooked, on baked goods, pastries and meat dishes.
In the simplest way, zaatar is part of any Middle Eastern breakfast, alongside olive oil. Bread is dipped in olive oil and then in zaatar, known as zeit wa za’atar in Arabic.
In the Middle East, za’atar is used the same way as Americans or Europeans use salt and pepper. Arabs use zaatar as a garnish and to level up everyday dishes. I almost always sprinkle some zaatar when serving cut up vegetables, such as tomatoes or cucumbers. It’s a great way to enhance their flavors without having to prepare a dressing or sauce.
In addition to its pure form, zaatar can be used for Manakeesh (Arabic pizza), pastry rolls, as a seasoning for roasted chickpeas and many more.
If you’re into fusion food, you can use zaatar to give everyday Western dishes such as toast bread or scrambled eggs a Middle Eastern touch.
Make Ahead & Storage
Although zaatar takes only 5 minutes to prepare, most people will prepare a larger batch to consume over several days or weeks.
Zaatar can be stored in an airtight container or spice jar for 3-6 months.
Additional Tips for Making
- Some people use untoasted sesame seeds which is fine too. I generally toast them as it will release their full flavor.
- Most people use whole spices (coriander seeds instead of ready-made ground coriander) for their mixture. That’s how I do it too and that’s what I’d recommend.
- If you want to maximize freshness, you can make your own dried thyme and oregano from fresh herbs. You need to dry fresh herbs in the oven for 1-3 hours, then leave to cool. Strip the leaves from the stems (discard them) and grind the leaves with the toasted whole spices as suggested in the recipe. Since many people don’t have fresh herbs available, I’m suggesting ready-made dried thyme and oregano. Naturally, homemade dried herbs yield a better result than store-bought. However, if you buy high-quality dried herbs, your za’atar will still be delicious!
Any Questions or Feedback?
If you liked this recipe, I’d appreciate it if you could leave a star rating ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ below. In case you’ve any questions or feedback, please leave me a comment (down the page). I’m happy to help you make delicious Middle Eastern food at home.
Zaatar Spice Blend
- 2 tsp dried thyme
- 2 tsp sesame seeds
- 1.5 tsp coriander seeds 1.5 tsp seeds = 1 tsp powder
- 1 tsp ground sumac
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Toast the coriander seeds and the sesame seeds in a skillet over medium heat for 3-4 minutes until slightly golden. Stir occasionally. Set aside a couple of minutes until completely cooled.
- Transfer the toasted spices to a grinder. Add dried thyme and dried oregano. Grind for 1-2 minutes.
- Transfer to a small mixing bowl. Add ground sumac and salt. Stir well to combine.
- Transfer the zaatar mixture into an airtight container or spice jar.
Nutrition information is only a rough estimate and may vary depending on factors such as the cooking method, exact weight, type, and brand of ingredients used.