Spice mixtures are often geographically linked to their terre d’origin rendering them difficult to recreate in the exact tastes and tones of their homeland, but so good you can’t resist the effort of trying. Za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice mixture of oreganese spiced sumac. Oregano comes in many leaves and branches, but sumac is a quintissentially Levantine aromatic that is often hard to find outside of the Orient.
In the world of spice mixtures, za’atar is the product of old wives tales. Decorated with rare culinary labels such as “ancient,” and “Biblical,” it’s deep notes hint of a delicate histoire cast in an amber vial many moons ago and whispered from grandmother to mother to daughter with the passing sands of time.
But my favorite thing about this spice is how average it is. Think about it. Everything you need for a basic za’atar is tucked within the corners of your spice drawer – toasted sesame seeds, rich oregano, bitter dried cumin, light lemony hints of black pepper (a nod to velvety dried sumac which is unavailable locally). On their own, these are the classic tastes of particular cuisines – Asian, Greek, Spanish, Italian – mixed together with the movement of the marauding hordes of history.
As if Genghis Khan carried sesame seeds out of Mongolia gifted them to Alexander of Macedon who thought, mmm oregano! His ancestors shared this new Orega-me spice with Caesar, as ancestors are wont to do, but JC was unimpressed as the Romans always are! “A twist of lemon, a pinch of cumin and we’re on our way,” Caesar thought. When in Rome! At the very least, it’s an enjoyable story!
- 1/2 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1/2 tablespoon lemon pepper seasoning
- 1/2 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon pepper
- Toast the sesame seeds in a small frying pan over medium heat for 2-3 minutes or until fragrant.
- Place all ingredients in a spice jar and shake to combine. Voilà! That's all there is to it!
- Recipe yields approximately 2 tablespoons of Za'atar.