Za’atar is a strong, oregano-like herb that grows wild throughout different parts of the Middle East. It’s also the key ingredient for the favorite Middle Eastern seasoning of the same name, a flavorful mixture of herbs, sesame seeds, and sumac that’s dusted over fresh flatbread to add texture and depth or stirred into olive oil for dipping. Za’atar doesn’t grow in L.A., so instead, I use a blend of marjoram, thyme, and sumac to get a similar flavor, as well as a little sugar for balance and some citric acid to help the sumac pop.
At Bavel, we make a number of different za’atar blends, using rose petals, dried mushrooms, or even fig leaves to bring out certain characteristics. The rose version is floral and herbaceous and holds up well to luxurious, creamy bases. It’s great mixed into yogurt, as a coating for a soft farm cheese, or whisked into a buttermilk salad dressing.
Note: You can use store-bought dried herbs for these recipes, but we dry our own herbs at Bavel for added freshness and flavor. To do the same at home, place sprigs of fresh marjoram and thyme in a food dehydrator at 110°F for 24 hours, then pulverize the leaves in a spice grinder or food processor. Citric acid is an organic acid found naturally in citrus fruit. It can be purchased in powdered form to add a sour flavor to foods and drinks.
- In a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder, crush the untoasted sesame seeds until they form a coarse meal. Grind the rose petals in a spice grinder or food processor until roughly chopped.
- In a bowl, combine the ground sesame seeds, ground rose petals, marjoram, thyme, sumac, toasted sesame seeds, citric acid, sugar, salt, and rose oil and mix by hand, rubbing the mixture between your fingers to break up any clumps and rehydrate the herbs with the sesame and rose oils. This will keep the za’atar fresh for longer. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 to 3 weeks.
Reprinted with permission from Bavel: Modern Recipes Inspired by the Middle East by Ori Menashe, Genevieve Gergis and Lesley Suter, copyright © 2021. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Photographs copyright © 2021 by Nicole Franzen