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Basic Za’atar


By Barbara Beltrami

I’ve recently started using za’atar a lot. A Middle Eastern blend of equal amounts of dried culinary herbs, thyme, cumin, coriander, sesame seeds and sumac with a perhaps a little salt or crushed hot red pepper added, za’atar gives an interesting and savory dimension to both ordinary and exotic dishes. Like so many ethnic combinations, it varies from cook to cook and region to region with other additions or substitutions such as fennel or marjoram, for instance.

Moreover, I’ve found that recipes in which it is used often call for additional amounts of one of its elements. Make your own blend or buy it at specialty grocers, then add it to salad dressings, spreads, dips, veggies, meat, poultry or fish, and a whole lot more. Its flavor is subtle; it doesn’t sock it to you, make your eyes water, clear your sinuses or send you sputtering and sprinting for a glass of water. It’s just a nice flavor kick.

Basic Za’atar

YIELD: Makes generous 1/4 cup.


1 tablespoon crushed dried thyme leaves

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

1 tablespoon sumac

Generous pinch coarse salt

Generous pinch crushed dried red pepper flakes


In a small bowl thoroughly combine ingredients. Store in air tight container or zip top bag.

Cucumber, Tomato and Feta Salad with Za’atar

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings.


1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, bruised

1 tablespoon za’atar

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 small English hothouse cucumber, peeled and diced

1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved

1 cup crumbled feta cheese


In a small skillet over medium high heat, warm oil; add garlic, reduce heat to low and cook until garlic releases its aroma and starts to turn golden, about 5 minutes. Add za’atar, stir and remove from heat. Discard garlic, let cool to lukewarm, add salt and pepper and lemon juice. In a salad bowl toss cucumber and tomatoes with warm dressing, then sprinkle feta on top. Serve with toasted pita bread and hummus.

Lemony Za’atar Chicken, Potatoes and Onions

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings.


1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 tablespoons za’atar

1 garlic bulb, cloves separated and peeled

1/2 cup dry white wine

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 broiler-fryer chicken, cut into 8 pieces

1 1/2 pounds baby potatoes, scrubbed and halved

1 large onion, peeled and cut into small wedges


In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, lemon juice, za’atar, garlic, wine, salt and pepper. Transfer to gallon zip top bag, add chicken, seal bag and turn it to be sure chicken is evenly coated. Refrigerate for two hours. Remove chicken from bag, but reserve bag of marinade; place chicken in bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. In the bag of reserved liquid place the potatoes and onions; seal bag and tilt to coat them evenly; refrigerate for one hour. Preheat oven to 400 F, place chicken, garlic, potatoes and onions with the marinade in a shallow baking pan. Bake, basting occasionally, until chicken is cooked through and veggies are tender, about 40 to 50 minutes. Serve hot with a tossed salad.

Za’atar Red Snapper with Israeli Couscous

YIELD: Makes 4 servings.


1 cup Israeli couscous

Four 6-ounce red snapper fillets, skin on

1/4 cup olive oil

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

3 tablespoons za’atar


Cook couscous according to package directions. Meanwhile coat the fish fillets on both sides with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and rub each side of the fillets evenly with the za’atar. Heat the remaining oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; add the fish fillets, skin side down, and cook until skin is golden and crisp, about 5 minutes. Carefully turn fish over and cook until flesh is opaque and fish flakes easily. Divide couscous onto 4 plates and top with fish. Serve hot with sautéed greens.