Sure, Zaatar is one of the most ancient and traditional spice blends in the world, but how can we cook with it now? This month’s spice promotion, Zaatar, means we get to taste a Biblical spice recipe that remains popular in Israel and Palestine today, and all at a neat discount. But what good is a flavor combination with an origin lost to the sands of time if we can’t find good recipes to cook with? Luckily for us, people have been writing down ways to cook with zaatar for literally thousands of years. From simple Zaatar-marinated olives or hummus flavored with Zaatar to complex stuffed flatbreads and the famous Lebanese sandwiches, there are a lot of ways to incorporate this Holy Land classic into your everyday cooking.
Zaatar can refer to both the thyme-based spice blend and thyme itself, and ancient references to Zaatar do not make great effort to clarify which one they are referring to. We do have some good sources on the meaning and history of Zaatar. We do know that God commanded the Israelites to sprinkle Zaatar on their sacrifices after their escape from Egypt, hinting at the kind of food that is eaten in heaven. Jesus, too, enjoyed his dishes flavored with the herby mixture. 12th century Jewish philosopher Maimonides described the Zaatar blend as an excellent brain food. Even just a few years ago, conflict erupted in the Holy Land when Israel temporarily banned the transport of Zaatar- only to quickly reverse the ban after some protest. Basically, when we start talking Zaatar, we’re talking about a blend with deep historical and emotional roots. This means, for those of us in today’s world, that there are plenty of directions to go when cooking with it.
Some of our favorite blends at Epices de Cru are all-purpose blends- a common phrase you might hear in our store is “you can put that on anything!” Zaatar is not one of those bends. It’s generally regarded as a finishing spice. In other words, it’s best to put a healthy sprinkle on top of something you’ve already prepared, like hummus or even a nice grilled meat. There are already six recipes that use Zaatar on our website (my favorite is with grilled fish). It can be used for salad dressing. One of the more popular ways to make use of its savory bite is to make a flatbread. This is a great support bread for a Lebanese sandwich, by the way. If you want to go in a heartier direction, try a nice potato pancake with Zaatar. Finally, Zaatar works not just with fish but also with chicken: chicken and pomegranate (more of the please), or with sourdough croutons (yes, brilliant, thank you). While I wouldn’t say you can just put Zaatar on anything, the savory combination can kick up a lot of your favorite foods. That is, after all, what’s it’s been doing for thousands of year.