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20
Oct

za'tar bites 2 copy

Next month, I will start my stint as chef-in-residence at Leighton House as part of their Nour Festival. My first session will be about essential Middle Eastern ingredients and I can’t think of one that has gone more global than za’tar. Some of you may say pomegranate syrup, others labneh and others tahini. You may all be right up to a certain extent but I still think that za’tar is the one that is the best known and the most used by western chefs and foodies.

By now, you probably all know that za’tar is a mixture of dried thyme, sumac and sesame seeds but what is less known is how many varieties there are. The Lebanese and Jordanian za’tar is a simple mixture like the one I describe above but the Syrian one which is known as Halabi (from Aleppo) or red za’tar is made of more ingredients: the three I already mentioned plus cumin, toasted chickpeas, black sunflower seeds and fennel seeds all ground very fine. And within these two main za’tar mixes, you find many variations.

za'tars

Above are pictures of four za’tar mixes and you can see how decidedly different they are. The top left is the Arjawi royal mix. Arjawi is a wonderful za’tar stall in souk el-Bzuriyeh in Damascus where they sell about half a dozen types (the royal one is a mix of all of them). They have the Lebanese (bottom right) and Jordanian (quite similar to the Lebanese although greener) mixes which are those used for manaqish (za’tar ‘pizza’ which I have adapted into dainty za’tar bites using puff pastry instead of pita dough). They also have a mix with pomegranate syrup (top right and one of my favourites) and the halabi or red one which is a speciality from Aleppo (bottom left) although I don’t buy my halabi za’tar from them but rather from al-Qobrossi in the old souk of Aleppo near Qanessrine gate.

za'tar-arjawi's stall in damascus copy

The Arjawi stall in Damascus — his tagline is ‘king of za’tar’

And of course you have the fresh za’tar (za’tar akhdar meaning green thyme) which we use in salads (in the picture mixed with rocket and seasoned with sumac) although the herb used fresh is different from the dried one that is used in the mix. The former has long, rather tender leaves whereas the one that is dried and ground has round, furry leaves and woody stalks. And there is yet a third type which may well be marjoram where the leaves are still round and furry but bigger than those in the picture at the end of the post. This type can be eaten fresh in salads (although it is very strong) or dried.

za'tar-fresh thyme & rocket salad

And here is a picture of the za’tar bites which I will serve to those visiting me in my kitchen at the end of my residency. Even when I use Sally Clarke’s puff pastry which is the best in London (the one I used to make those in the pictures is from Waitrose but made with butter), the bites behave like aliens when I bake them and crawl along the baking sheet ending up having the weirdest shapes. I tried making the pastry really cold by refrigerating it before baking and I tried making them bigger but the result is the same. Some puff upright and others crawl. It doesn’t really matter because they taste delicious and don’t disintegrate when you pick them up. Just make sure you use the Lebanese or Jordanian za’tar when baking. The Halabi one will burn, at least according to the za’tar connaisseurs in the souk!

za'tar bites-on baking dish copy

To make your own za’tar

Mix two parts finely ground dried thyme with one part ground sumac and 1/2 part toasted sesame seeds — you can also use a mixture of toasted and raw. Add fine sea salt to taste. Put the za’tar in a frying pan and stir over a medium heat until the aroma rises. This very light toasting helps keep the za’tar for a long time, preferably stored in a hermetically sealed glass or earthenware jar. If you want to make the puff pastry bites, all you need to do is mix the za’tar with a little extra virgin olive oil to have a thick paste which you spread over small thin disks of puff pastry and bake in a hot oven for about 15 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown.

za'tar-fresh thyme 2

A bunch of wild za’tar that my lovely late driver in Beirut, Jamil, picked for me one summer.


There is 14 comments on this post


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    Oooh, can we come and visit you during your Nour Festival residency, Aunty A?

    I have some wonderful za’atar — the day we visited Abu Kassem in Zawtor in Southern Lebanon was such a highlight of the trip, for me. I came home with lots of it!

    Don’t know if you saw my blog post, it’s one of my all time favourites.


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    of course you can come and visit but you have to check with leighton house. i know the demo is sold out. and i will check your post 🙂


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    I get the Jordanian zaatar from Arjawi as well everytime i’m in Damascus!..it surely is my favourite there, and everytime i have it i get a taste of ground pistachios in it, correct me if i’m wrong.
    Right next to Arajawi there’s a stall that sells the most wonderful halaweh called “al mawa2ed” if i recall it right..you should taste it. You can get it plain, or with pistachios..it’s soft and almost buttery, a real delight, different from all the halawehs i’ve had.
    Anyway I just came back from a stay in Riadh, where i had “rozz mou3attar”, amazing rice, very dry and perfumed with chopped thyme leaves and coriander among other herbs, they serve it with lamb chops on the side. i thought of you. be well 🙂


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    mmm… thx for thinking of me. you are making me feel like having some. i’ll check in doha next week if they have something similar. so, did i convert you to ghammeh? or will you remain a na3nou3 :)? and the reason why halaweh is better in syria it is because most of these stalls make their own, either at the back of the shop or nearby and it is much fresher than what we get in lebanon, or worse here 🙂


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    hahahaha i must say, compliments aside, that they look extremely appetizing, no worse than giant dumplings. I would surely try them. But unfortunatley i’m afraid i will remain a na3nou3 when it comes to fawaregh..it’s complicated, i wonder how those could look pretty, or even have a prettier name in arabic! 🙂
    anyway thank you for asking.ya3tikeh alf 3afieh.


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    allah y3afik 🙂 i prefer the fwaregh to the kruch but if you don’t like them, well be it. have a nice evening 🙂


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    I had never thought to make my own za’tar before, but I certainly will do now, thanks.
    I will give your canapes a go too. In the past, I have placed a wire rack over puff pastry to stop it from rising too much in the oven!


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    an interesting method but i like the very fluffy risen pastry even if it leads to misshapen bites 🙂


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    Mmm these look delicious. Thanks for sharing Anissa! Always looking for new ways to use za’tar – I love it. I wish I knew of some markets here in the Los Angeles area where I could find different types of za’tar or even fresh. Please brief me if you know of any! (:


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    you should try some of the persian stores. or then kalustyans online 🙂


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    Thanks Anessa,
    they look so yummy. I can’t wait to try them. I like the idea of using the puff pastry in place of AJEEN.Did you use the puff pastry sheet and cut in round?..
    Did you try to place the small round cuts in a mini muffin pan to keep shape?


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    no, i haven’t but it/s a good idea 🙂 thx sana…


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    ur blog is great! i like it, great info.


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    thanks bilal 🙂

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