4 ways with zaatar

I LOVE ZAATAR. There. I said it. And now on with the post.

The thing with zataar, is that it will never let you down. Too little? No problem. Too much? Just extra tasty crunchiness in my book. I had been driving around Israel for 6 days, and in a country the size of a large walnut (compared to the size of my homeland), 6 days driving can take you to most parts. Up and down, side to side, and finally, had laid back to rest for the night before crossing over into Jordan at a palestinian hostel in the old city of Jerusalem. I was sick – mostly motion sick – from driving said distances, and my way of dealing with ill health is to eat. In one of the covered market halls, i went for a pitta bread with a green, oily, grainy paste smushed on top, like a pesto, but more gritty. It would help settle stomachs, it was said, and it did – it was magical. I got back in the car, the next day and made it to Jordan, with zaatar to spare.

Zaatar, which can be spelt dozens of different ways, is a spice blend that hails from the middle east. A mix of oregano, majoram, thyme, salt, sesame seeds and sumac makes up a basic blend, but like all spice mixes, it varies widely from place to place and store to store. I swear that my first Israeli encounter with it had mint in it… but hard to prove at this point, given it was several years ago.

Lucky for everyone who does not live in the middle east yet wants some of the zaatar action, you can get it at most supermarkets, delis, or if you are dedicated or close by, the Spice Shop in north London has a supply. Here are my 4 favourite things to do with it.

1. Zaatar pittas. If you have the spice blend dry, mix in with extra virgin olive oil until a paste. brush onto pitta, and grill until starting to brown.

2. Zaatar meatballs. Mix in with your favourite meatball recipe. Or try this one – 500g of minced beef or lamb, 1 egg mixed through, 2 teasp of salt, handful of breadcrumbs, and load in as much zataar as you like – maybe 3 tablespoons is good to start with. or less if you are nervous. some people would also add a squeeze of lemon, and chopped coriander. season again with salt and cracked black pepper, mix with your hands, and form into little meatballs. fry or bake in oven.

3. Sprinkle on soft boiled eggs. After Humpty has lost his head, sprinkle zaatar over his corpse, hopefully some soft yolk will be there to take it in…

4. Salad dressing. Call it a deconstructed fattoush salad. lettuce leaves, tomatoes, cucumber are the only core ingredients, everything else only adds to the salad splendour. Although I’m pretty sure that most would say the oiled bread is somewhat central to fattoush. Whisk olive oil, lemon juice, zaatar and black pepper together, and dress the salad as close to serving as you can get.

Having said all that now, i think what i most want to do is go with option 1, then grill with goat’s milk fetta over the top…

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