Thyme is called "za'atar" in Arabic. Marjoram sometimes too. Oh yes, oregano too. Even though these wonderful herbs have their own names, people sometimes say za'atar to all three. Crazy, isn't it? "Go buy some za'atar!" - Uh.... okay. The best thing to do is to bring the Za'atar spice mix with you - everyone from the Levant loves it anyway.
My za'atar mixture consists of toasted sesame seeds, dried thyme, sumac and a little salt. Originally, the holy herb hyssop was used instead of thyme. What does hyssop taste like? Scintillating - like thyme with a little oregano with an aftertaste of marjoram - or was it the other way round? It's all za'atar anyway! It's clear, isn't it? 😉
No, the complex taste of hyssop is also joined by notes of sage and rosemary.
Depending on taste, everyone has their own mixture for za'atar. There are mixtures that contain thyme, oregano AND marjoram. Some even have cumin (WTF?!?) sneaked in. Doesn't have to be, I think. I prefer the minimalist mix - sesame, thyme, salt and sumac. Wait a minute... sumac?
Sumac is a spice obtained from the red fruits of the spice sumac. Coarsely ground, the purple powder is sprinkled over salads and used in dips or to make (barbecue) marinades. Sumac smells very slightly of vinegar and has a strong, tart flavour. All together in a spice pot, zatar tastes wonderfully nutty due to the roasted sesame seeds, while sumac adds a nice freshness; and the thyme - that's the top and heart note of the whole thing.
And what can I use this Za'atar for?
Try Manakish. These are delicious dough patties that are coated with a mixture of za'atar, onions and olive oil and then briefly put in the oven. The smell that comes out of your oven is intoxicating!
You can also simply serve the mixture alongside a good olive oil and fresh bread. Dip the bread first in the oil and then in the delicious spice mixture.
Za'atar also goes very well with cheese, eggs (boiled or fried - it doesn't matter), in a wrap, on labneh or in a salad. And how is the spice really spelled? That doesn't matter - Google will understand you 😉
How to make za'atar yourself
- Toast the sesame seeds without oil in a pan on medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring.
- Place half of the sesame seeds in a mortar with the salt, sumac and thyme and lightly pound.
- Add the remaining sesame seeds and mix.