First of all, za’atar (wild thyme) is an herb and a spice blend. The herb is native to the Levant region (Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Israel). The spice is a special combination of dried wild thyme, sumac, sesame seeds, and salt. This mixture has a tangy, herbal, nutty taste and is commonly use by families that proudly make their own blend by adapting the ingredients and proportions to their liking.
Unfortunately, wild thyme is not readily available and I have substituted whole dried thyme, just know it will have a slightly different flavor. If you’re fortunate enough to have access to the wild thyme, by all means use it, the flavor is subtle but distinctive!
The dark purplish-red powder of sumac add a citrusy flavor with a slightly tart taste, giving za’atar its lemony tanginess. This spice is made from the edible sumac berry which have been dried, crushed, and then ground. Ground sumac may be found at a Middle Eastern market, spice store, or on Amazon.
Toasting the sesame seeds yourself will enhance the nuttiness and crunchy texture of the za’atar. I have very fond memories of my Lebanese mother-in-law sending us a large cloth bag full of her homemade za’atar which always included extra toasted sesame seeds.
Ways to use za’atar
Some of my favorite ways to use za’atar is sprinkled on eggs, eaten with labneh (creamy yogurt cheese), used as seasoning for meats, vegetables, and roasted potatoes, or mixed with olive oil to be spread over dough making man’oushe that would then be baked in a hot oven.