Za’atar- the genuine article

zaatar salad

A shorter version of the following appeared in The Press and the Dominion Post on October 22nd.


The name Za’atar is used to describe both the blend of spices and also its key ingredient; Middle Eastern wild thyme. The wild thyme is usually sourced from places like Jordan and Syria, but it is not actually a member of the thyme family (plants in the genus Thymus)– even though it is labelled as such on the packets. It is more closely related to oregano than thyme. In the Za’atar we make at Ground we use the Jordanian wild thyme, as we like to stick to the authentic recipe. If you want to make your own blend I don’t recommend using New Zealand dried thyme. The taste is quite bitter and not the same as the genuine Middle Eastern Za’atar ‘thyme’, which has a refreshing, zesty taste to it. The other ingredients in Za’atar are sesame seeds, sumac and salt.  To make your own blend use 3 teaspoons of Za’atar thyme with 1 teaspoon of sumac, ½ teaspoon of toasted sesame seeds and ¼ teaspoon of salt.  The Za’atar thyme and sumac both provide a certain acidity to the blend but have a surprising affinity with one another. The sumac provides the tart taste. Za’atar goes well sprinkled on roast tomatoes, mixed into scrambled eggs or omelettes, rubbed into chicken or salmon before roasting, or even added to your favourite bread dough.

Za’atar Scones with Labneh

I got this recipe from my Lebanese-Australian friend. You can’t eat just one. Makes 12 scones

1½ cups of all-purpose flour

¼ cup of whole wheat flour

1 tablespoon of baking powder

1 tablespoons of sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons Za’atar

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in even chunks

½ cup of a mixture of yogurt and water (put a few tablespoons of yogurt in a bowl and add some                                       water to get ½ cup)

1 egg, mixed with a teaspoon of water

Extra virgin olive oil and labneh* for serving



Place the flours, baking powder, salt, sugar and 1 tablespoon of the Za’atar in the bowl of a food processor. Process for 30 seconds to mix all the dry ingredients and aerate the mixture. Add the butter in chunks and pulse the machine a few times until the butter is no longer visible and the mixture becomes like coarse sand. Add the yogurt and water mixture and pulse some more (a few seconds) until the dough is moist and forms into large clumps. Stop the machine, gather the dough and roll out (with hands or rolling pin) till about 2cm thick. Cut with a round cutter into even rounds and set on a lightly buttered baking tray.

Whisk the egg with a touch of water and add the other tablespoon of Za’atar. Dab or brush on the surface of the scones. Preheat the oven to 200°C and when the oven is hot, put the scones in and bake for 15 minutes or so, until they are puffed up and dry.

Cool them a bit and split them in half. Plop a good tablespoon of labneh on them followed by a drizzle of a good extra virgin olive oil.

*Pantry Note. Labneh is a soft cheese made from strained yogurt. You can buy balls of it marinated in olive oil at your supermarket. Or better yet, make your own by straining 2 cups of yogurt through some muslin for 24 hours.

Jenny’s Layered Salad

This salad is actually a platter with layers of fish, salad and potatoes that serves as a one-dish dinner for 4. It is fresh and filling with a great combination of flavours. You can add other bits and pieces to taste.

4 medium size potatoes

4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

5 tablespoons Za’atar

3 tablespoons fine cornmeal/polenta

6 fish fillets (about 200gs each), cut into about 4 pieces each (I used gurnard)

3 tablespoons flour

1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water

6 large tomatoes, sliced

350g baby salad leaves

Lemon infused olive oil.

200g rocket leaves

12 green olives

Cut the potatoes into fairly thick slices and parboil them for about 5 minutes. Drain well. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a frying pan and spread the potatoes over the base of the pan. Cook until golden and tender, turning once during cooking. At the point when you turn them over, liberally sprinkle two tablespoons of the Za’atar over them. You may need to do this in batches. When cooked, rest them on a paper towel. Mix the remaining 3 tablespoons of Za’atar with the cornmeal .If you don’t have any fine polenta/cornmeal, use pamko Crumbs.  Dip the fish into the flour to dust, then into the egg and then into the Za’atar/cornmeal mixture to coat. Fry the fillets in the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-based frying pan. Let them rest on paper towels.

You need a large serving platter to assemble this salad. Start with a layer of potatoes spread out evenly (not overlapping) over the platter. Spread the tomato slices over the potatoes to cover then. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Then place the baby salad leaves over the top of the tomatoes. Drizzle a little lemon oil over the salad leaves. Place the fish fillets on top of the salad leaves. Spread the rocket leaves on top of the fish and then finish with the olives scattered on top and another drizzle of lemon oil.

Za’atar-encrusted Pork Fillets

A simple dish with special Middle Eastern flavours. Serves 6.

6 free-range pork fillets (about 200gs each)

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup of pomegranate molasses

½ cup Za’atar

350g baby spinach leaves

20g butter

Season the pork to taste with salt and pepper, then heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a heavy-based frying pan and brown the pork fillets, in batches. Drain the excess fat from the pan and then return the pork fillets to the pan. Add pomegranate molasses and toss to coat well. Remove the pork and sprinkle evenly with Za’atar to coat. Place on a lightly oiled oven tray and cook at 180°C for 5 to 20 minutes, or until the fillets are cooked to your liking. Rest them in a warm place while you cook the spinach.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-based frying pan, add the spinach leaves and toss continuously over high heat until wilted. Add the butter and season to taste. Slice the pork fillets on the diagonal and serve on top of the spinach.

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