Za’atar is a seasoning blend from the Middle East that has been around for centuries and which includes oregano and marjoram along with sumac. Those are just the main ingredients; other ingredients can vary based on where you are in the Middle East — you might see mint and savory in some blends as well as sesame seeds. The components of za’atar are all versatile, making it a mix with a large number of applications. Here are nine common za’atar uses, both old and new, by which you can enjoy this exotic seasoning.
In a dry rub for meat
The flavors in za’atar make it perfect for grilled dishes. It pairs well with most meats and with most of the other herbs and spices that you might want to include in a dry rub. Try za’atar on everything from pork ribs to steak; in the Middle East, it is commonly used on lamb and chicken. The tartness of sumac and the crunch of sesame seeds can bring an unexpected and interesting aspect to meat cooked over an open flame.
As good as za’atar is in a dry rub, it is even better in breading; the sesame seeds enhance the crunchiness while giving the food a nutty taste. Also, the tartness of the sumac can help to cut through the fattiness of deep-fried foods. Frying helps to release flavor from the aromatics in za’atar.
As a topping for bread
One of the most traditional ways to use za’atar is on flatbreads like pita or manakish. You can use za’atar to top bread in one of two ways: you can brush the dough with oil and sprinkle on the za’atar before baking it, or you can add the za’atar at the table. Also, za’atar can make a tasty dip for your flatbread if you mix it with olive oil.
Za’atar is from the same part of the world as hummus, so it’s no surprise that they sometimes get used together. Za’atar can bring a pleasant herbal note to the chickpea and tahini paste. Hummus also contains lemon juice with the sumac enhancing its tartness.
Labneh is a strained yogurt that some westerners liken to cheese — cream cheese is sometimes recommended as a substitute for it. Za’atar often gets added to labneh, which is a popular spread for flatbread.
On fried eggs
One of the traditional applications for za’atar is at breakfast, and one of its breakfast applications is that it makes an excellent seasoning for eggs. You can use za’atar as a topping for a fried egg in place of — or along with — pepper and salt. The fried egg may be served along with flatbreads.
All the seasonings included in za’atar blends are great on roasted vegetables, especially on those that provide a great blank slate like potatoes and squash. The fact that it has a strong herbal component is one of the reasons that it works so well for this; the combination of herbs and olive oil is widely known to pair well with many vegetables.
Za’atar makes a great seasoning for popcorn. Just sprinkle it on for a fat-free source of flavor.
As a condiment at the table
Za’atar is often served right at the table where you can add it to foods to taste.