An herb with a pedigree that goes back to the Bible, za’atar, or hyssop leaf, is at the heart of the blend of the same name. Herby, tangy, nutty, and slightly salty, the blend elevates every dish it touches. Every spring, when za’atar grows in abundance, Arab and Palestinian women dry reams of it on rooftops and patios before grinding it with sesame, salt, sumac, and, occasionally, thyme for a homemade version they use all year. There are different styles of za’atar all over the Middle East; some are much tangier due to the amount of sumac added; some have more sesame seeds or salt. I found making my own to be a revelation, because I could control exactly how much of each element I wanted in the mix. Microwaving herbs to dry them is another discovery; it removes the moisture while leaving the herbs bright green. You can sometimes find za’atar fresh at farmers’ markets or well-stocked Middle Eastern stores, but fresh oregano is a worthy stand-in; dried herbs also work really well here, too.
- If using fresh za'atar or oregano, arrange it on a towel-lined plate and microwave in 15-second intervals, stirring between intervals, until dry and crumbly, 2 to 2½ minutes.
- Crumble the leaves by hand or in a spice grinder until almost fine (the way dried herbs look), then combine in a medium bowl with the marjoram, sesame seeds, thyme, sumac, and salt. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 months.
From SABABA by ADEENA SUSSMAN, published by AVERY, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2019 by ADEENA SUSSMAN
Adeena Sussman divides her time between Tel Aviv and New York and is writing an Israeli cookbook to be published by Avery Books in 2019. She is also the author of Tahini, and co-author of ten cookbooks including the New York Times #1 best-selling Cravings by Chrissy Teigen and its upcoming sequel.