Zatar, I love it! Until recently I was buying it from a company that specializes in spices. Recently it dawned on me that zatar is a spice blend, therefore I could probably create my own blend. After all, I had already dabbled in and succeeded in making chili powder, curry, and garam masala, so why not zatar? A personalized spice blends make a great hostess gift plus, you can customize it to your family’s palate. It’s great fun. I recently made a batch of zatar and took it to some foodie co-workers; they were very excited. So what exactly is zatar? It is the generic name used to refer to a blend of spices popular in the Middle Eastern cuisine.
There are a couple of different types of zatar that I am familiar with. For the recipe I am sharing with you today, the main ingredient is sumac, the tangy, tart red powder from the dried berries of the sumac bush which is cultivated in southern Italy, the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
Sumac is a key ingredient in kebabs, fish, chicken and lamb. It can also be used to accent fish or vegetables dishes. Other ingredients in zatar are: thyme, oregano, and sesame seeds. I like to add in a bit of either saffron or nutmeg, just to give the blend a different dimension. I like to use zatar in shawarma, and also sprinkle some on my hummus. It is so good!
Zatar is also great on toasted pita, which we get at a local Middle Eastern market. We bake the pita until it is crispy, remove it from the oven and brush it with a bit of olive oil. We then sprinkle on the zatar. Yum, it is so tasty, and makes a great appetizer.
The word sumac comes from the Arabic ‘sumaq‘ which literally means dark red. Its use has been around since antiquity. The Romans used sumac in place of vinegar, and it was also used by the Greeks for similar culinary purposes. In Europe for example, sumac was used to impart a tangy taste on food until the Arabs introduced citrus fruits. In some countries sumac is widely used in folk medicine.
Back in the 12th century, the Spanish Jewish philosopher Maimonides prescribed it to his patients for various ailments. Some recent research shows that oregano and thyme, key ingredients in zatar, have antioxidant properties. The ancients might have been onto something. So, as you can see, zatar is an awesome, flavorful, rich spice that can be used to season just about anything. Enjoy, and feel free to improvise by adding your personal touch.
- 1½ Tbsp. sumac
- 1 Tbsp. thyme
- 1 Tbsp. oregano
- 1 Tbsp. sesame seeds
- 1 tsp. Kosher salt
- ⅛ tsp. nutmeg
- Place all ingredients in a jar and shake.
- Store in your pantry for up to 6 months.