Zaatar is to Lebanon what Peanut Butter is to America. The word “Zaatar” (aka Zatar or Za’tar) refers to wild thyme herbs that grow in Lebanese and Middle Eastern wilderness. It is also used to refer to the herbal mix that will be featured in this recipe and which is found in every Lebanese kitchen.
I recall childhood memories when we used to go out with our cousins and friends in the woods of villages in Koura, Lebanon every spring looking for wild thyme and marjoram. Our mothers would then dry the herbs and mix them with spices to prepare our yearly stock of the Zaatar mix.
The Zaatar mix can be consumed in a variety of ways, the most common one being to mix it with olive oil, and then use it as a spread on a sandwich or spread it on dough and bake it into a “Man’oosheh” (plural “Mana’eesh”). Mana’eesh bakeries are to the streets of Lebanon what Starbucks is to the streets of America (and now the World). They are extremely common and are crowded mostly in mornings with people picking up Zaatar or other kinds of Mana’eesh and gourmet baked pies on their way to work.
Zaatar Herbal Mix Recipe: (30 servings)
- 1 cup of dried wild thyme *
- 1/4th cup of dried marjoram (optional)
- 3/4th cup of ground sumac spice
- 3/4th cup of sesame seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon of cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon of coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon of shumar (ground fennel)
- 1/2 table-spoon of ground anise
- 1/2 table-spoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 table-spoon of salt (or to taste)
* Today due to the scarcity of wild thyme many people use different varieties of farmed thyme and oregano as a substitute.
Measurements and Servings:
- 1 serving = 2 teaspoons of Zaatar mixed well with 2-3 teaspoons of olive oil into a paste
- 1 cup of Zaatar mix = about 20 heaping teaspoons = about 100 grams
Zaatar Mix Preparation:
The ingredients above are what our mother uses for the Zaatar mix. However different villages or even countries in the Middle East use their own set of spices for their Zaatar mix, which makes it all a wonderful and rich variety for your taste buds. The main and most common ingredients though have to include dried thyme, sumac, salt and sesame seeds.
Preparing the Zaatar mix is extremely easy. First you need to roast the sesame seeds in a pan over medium heat for a few minutes until they turn light brown, all while stirring. Then you mix the sesame seeds along with all other ingredients really well to get your Zaatar mix.
Shortcuts: You could certainly buy your Zaatar mix at local Middle-Eastern grocery stores or online, however our experience has been that they are typically of commercial quality and don’t compare to the mix you prepare at home.
Ways to Eat Zaatar:
- As a Dip: Mix 2 Zaatar tablespoons with 2-4 olive oil tablespoons into a paste that you can use as a dip with pita bread, or as a spread on sandwiches. Don’t use other than olive oil.
- Manakeesh:Spread the Zaatar paste/dip on a 1/4th inch thick dough and bake it in the oven as you would a pizza. You can also spread the Zaatar paste on pita bread and toast it in the oven. Toasted Zaatar tends to have a strong tangy taste. You could then eat it as is, or add tomatoes and mint in the center of the “Man’oosheh” and roll it as in a Burrito.
- Hors D’oeuvres: Spread the Zaatar paste (with olive oil) on circular pieces of dough, about 3 in diameter and bake in the oven for a few minutes and serve as Hors D’oeuvres.
- On Labneh: You could either sprinkle Zaatar mix on a Labne (Kefir Cheese) sandwich or on a “Man’oosheh bi Labneh”. You could also sprinkle it on top of certain cheeses (white cheese / goat cheese / feta…etc)
- On Pizza: Sprinkle a bit of Zaatar mix as the top layer of your home-baked Pizza before baking it
How to Quickly Prepare Home Made Zaatar Pies:
Spread 3 teaspoons of Zaataar paste (mixed with olive oil) into a very thin layer over a large flat bread or Lebanese Pita bread. Slice it as you would a Pizza, then bake it on a piece of aluminum foil at 400 degrees F for 3-4 minutes until the bread turns toasty with a light brown tan. Serve and enjoy.
Once you’ve prepared your Zaatar herbal mix, you can store it in an air-tight container and it can last you at least 1-2 years especially if you keep it in the fridge.