In Lebanon, there is a belief that this particular spice mixture makes the mind alert and the body strong. For this reason, children are encouraged to eat a za'atar sandwich for breakfast before an exam. Maimonides (Rambam), a medieval rabbi and physician who lived in North Africa and Egypt, also prescribed za'atar for its health advancing properties.
Za'atar is used as a seasoning for meats and vegetables. It can be mixed with olive oil to make a spread called za'atar-wu-zayt as a dip for the sesame bread rings known as ka'ak. Za'atar can also be spread on a dough base and baked as a bread, in which case it is called manaeesh bi zaatar . It can be sprinkled on labneh (yogurt that has been drained until it becomes a tangy, creamy cheese). Za'atar is often sprinkled on hummus or served with olive oil as a spread or dip. It can also be used to spice meat and vegetables and can be mixed with salt, rolled into balls and preserved in oil, or dried in the sun.
- 1/4 cup sesame seeds
- 1 cup dried oregano leaves1/2 cup dried thyme leaves
- 3 Tablespoons ground sumac (available in Middle Eastern stores)
- 2 1/2 Tablespoons coarse salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds
- Place sesame seeds in skillet over medium/high heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until they start to crackle and pop. As seeds begin to brown lightly, remove skillet from heat and continue stirring. As soon as all of the seeds are uniformly light brown, transfer them to a plate to cool.
- Place a fine mesh sieve over a bowl. Rub the oregano and thyme leaves through the sieve into the bowl. Mix in sumac, salt, allspice, and caraway seeds. Add the cooled sesame seeds. Taste, and adjust flavors by adding more sumac (to make it more tart) or allspice (to make it more aromatic).