Saturday, December 14, 2013


This past summer, we were in Columbus, Ohio for a brief visit and while there made our way to the North Market. In a little spice shop I purchased some Za'atar mainly  because I had never heard of it and was curious to give it a try.

A little background about what it is comes from the blog Serious Eats:

What is Za'atar?

Za'atar the spice blend is a mixture of dried herbs, sesame seeds, and sumac, and often salt, a centuries-old mixture dating back to the 13th century, at least. What those herbs are and how all those ingredients are proportioned vary from culture to culture and family to family. In much of the Middle East, za'atar recipes are closely guarded secrets, and there are also substantial regional variations. In Jordan, the za'atar is particularly heavy on the sumac, so it looks red. Lebanese za'atar may have dried orange zest; Israeli za'atar (adopted from Arab communities much like the American adoption of salsa) often includes dried dill. Unsurprisingly, these variations are a matter of extreme national pride.

There are some standards: the most common herbs are thyme and oregano, and they make up the bulk of the blend. Marjoram, mint, sage, or savory are also common. 

Za'atar is most frequently used as a table condiment, dusted on food on its own, or stirred into some olive oil as a dip for soft, plush flatbreads. That spread is often applied to the bread before baking, which lends incredible depth of flavor to the herbs and sesame seeds. Za'atar also makes a superb dry rub for roast chicken or lamb, as well as on firm or starchy vegetables like cauliflower or potatoes.
In Lebanon, za'atar is most associated with breakfast, a cue well worth taking. Try dusting some on eggs, oatmeal, or yogurt (especially labne). Or add some to your next batch of lemon cookies—lemon, thyme, and sesame are a trio on par with tomato, basil, and mozzerella, perfect in sweet and savory foods.

Many people eat za'atar as-is, out of hand, and it's strangely addicting. When paired with popcorn, even more so. Za'atar's uses are practically limitless and as flexible as its ingredients. But anything goes with this stuff. Fairy dust wishes it tasted this good.
I subscribe to an email newsletter from NPR's Splendid Table radio show. Each week, along with some food trivia they send a great recipe. Of course when I saw a recipe using za'atar I knew I had to try it. I have to say this was a mighty tasty way to serve up a chicken!
The following recipe comes from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi
Roast Chicken with Za'tar and Lemon

1 large chicken, cut in pieces. Be sure to cut the breasts into 2 or three pieces if they are very large.
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
4 T olive oil
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 T sumac
1 lemon, thinly sliced
1 cup of chicken stock
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2 T za’atar
4 tsp butter
6 T pine nuts
4 T chopped flat leaf parsley


In large bowl, mix chicken with the onions, garlic, olive oil, spices, lemon, stock, salt and pepper. Leave in the fridge to marinate for a few hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 400. Transfer chicken mixture and its marinade to a baking sheet large enough to accommodate all the chicken pieces lying flat and spaced apart. I line mine baking sheets with parchment which allows for easier clean-up! Chicken should be skin side up. Roast for 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt butter in small frying pan, and te pine nuts and cook over medium heat stirring constantly until they turn golden. transfer to a plate lined with paper towel to absorb fat. 

Transfer the hot chicken mixture to a serving plate and finish with the chopped parsley, pine nuts and a drizzle of olive oil.

Serve with naan, or  pita bread and some garlicky yogurt.