Zatar. Not many of my friends have heard of this wonderful stuff, so I often serve it as an app at dinner parties to spread the good word. So what is it?
It’s generally a mixture of toasted sesame seeds. . .
. . .and very finely ground dried herbs and spices.
There are probably as many iterations of zatar as their are towns in the Middle East. (For that matter, there are several different ways to spell it: zatar, zahtar, zaa’tar, and so on). Herbs like thyme, oregano, sage, and rosemary, to name but a few, can find their way into the mix.
The most fun place to buy zatar? In my opinion, it’s at the spice market or a specialty foods store with spice bins. You can find it online, of course. But as for spice markets, here’s a pic of one in Istanbul:
So here’s the lore on zatar. It’s filling, but won’t weigh you down. (Wow, that sounds kinda beer-ad-sloganesque!) Students often eat it before exams for energy and alterness. It’s cleansing and aids digestion, which is why some people swear by it as a weight loss aid. It can help you out if you’re feeling unwell. (Again, the whole cleansing thing).
There are many ways one can use zatar. For example, a popular way to enjoy it is as a topping on warm pita. I like to sprinkle it on salads and roasted vegetables. Most often, though, I make a quick zatar dip. It’s simple.
This is how I make the dip: I pour some zatar in a small, shallow bowl. I pour olive oil on top of the zatar, and mix well. Then I put fresh pieces of chopped garlic bits on top. Yes, I eat raw garlic sometimes. I happen to really love it. Don’t knock it–it’s a very good immune system boost. Just make sure to enjoy it with like-minded people. Or alone!
Call this dip a triple threat: I’ve eaten this dip as an appetizer, as part of brunch or breakfast, or alone for dinner. Well, not completely alone–with some pita for dipping.
Some people like the dip more oily, and less pasty. My personal preference is to let the zatar stand out, while the olive oil binds it all together. Otherwise, you have an olive oil dip flavored with zatar, not a zatar dip with some olive oil. Of course, adjust the thickness of the dip to your preference. If you end up with too much oil, add more zatar. If you end up with too much zatar, simply add more oil.
One very important note: Many zatar mixes are pre-salted, so keep this in mind if you’re adding it to recipes.
Have fun! Feel free to share some of your zatar uses with me in the comments.