This summer I was formally introduced to a beautiful, beautiful thing – za’atar. After some pick-up soccer at Philly’s Penn Park (if you love to play and haven’t been there yet, go!) my friends and I were finna eat some noms. And so, my friend suggested a snack he always ate back home in Lebanon. He whipped out a block of feta cheese, a bottle of extra virgin olive oil, and an unmarked tub of a dark green spice-mixture freckled with sesame seeds. He proceeded by breaking up the feta into small chunks, adding a generous drizzle of evoo, and then the unknown mixture. He stirred it all together as we waited for some pita slices to heat up in the toaster. Alas, when the pita was nice and warm I added a scoop of his creation to the bread, took a bite, and went to a special place. There was the slightly spicy bite of the evoo laced within the feta cheese but that was not what sealed the deal. It was the heavenly flavor of the mystery mixture. And what was the magical spice addition you ask? Nothing other than that good good known as za’atar.
Za’atar is a spice mixture commonly found in Middle Eastern cuisine created from a blend of dried herbs including marjoram, thyme and oregano, sesame seeds and a handful of other spices. It can be paired with anything, literally anything. From salads and hummus to eggs and meats, I find excuses to incorporate it into everything I eat, especially when snacking on cottage cheese or yogurt. Basically, it is the crack cocaine of seasoning.
My friend gets his za’atar in giant packages sent from his mom in Beirut. However, if you don’t have a Lebanese mom connect your best bets are markets specializing in Middle Eastern fare or any shop with a diverse spice selection. Sadly, major supermarkets like Whole Foods or Superfresh don’t usually carry it – a tragedy, I know. So next time you go out shopping za’atar should be at the top of your grocery list – if you know what’s good for you that is.