So I went to Israel this Summer and had my first taste of za'atar and omg, I literally stopped in my tracks. I was standing out a counter in Tzfat and just starting asking everyone I was with- What is this?! What is in this dish?! It was probably my most talked about conversation throughout the entire trip. Naturally, I bought za'atar at the market in Jerusalem and have been tossing that spice into most of what I make- eggs, veggies, chicken- SO GOOD. But sadly, I'm running low on the stash I bought in Israel. However, I shall be making this recipe until all of the za'atar has been eaten!
This is so so super delicious and so so SO easy to make. Seriously. Like weekday dinner easy to make!!
But first - a lesson on za'atar:
There are several different varieties of za'atar that tend to vary with region, however, they are all based around the ingredient wild thyme with sesame seeds. Different regions incorporate different added seasonings like coriander and sumac, oregano and fennel. You can tell just by looking at the four different regional variations that they vary greatly. When I was in Israel I had no idea there was any variation- I was just told "Za'atar", the green vaguely marijuana looking herb with sesame seeds.
I read much of the cookbook Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi before I knew much about Za'atar beyond that it was delicious and I couldn't get enough of it. In their cookbook, they dedicated two pages in describing the spice that I found fascinating.
"Za'atar is part and parcel of the Palestinian heritage... Za'atar has now also become central to modern Israeli cuisine... Regrettably, za'atar has joined the long list of thorny subjects poisoning the fraught relationship between Arabs and Jews, when the Israeli authorities declared the herb an endangered species and banned picking it in the wild. Though a compelling argument was made about preserving the dwindling population of wild za'atar, the decree was taken without any form of dialogue with Arabs, who see it as a deliberate violation of their way of life" (Jerusalem 34-35).
The importance of za'atar, the history, the tradition, is rooted in the Palestinian culture. The argument and heat is not over the spice but over their culture in reaction to the spice as integrated in Israeli culture.
This topic is QUITE fascinating. Let me know if you would like me to dive deeper into this conversation - I spent a semester talking about Palestinian foods and Israeli foods and their relationship and importance. Not a beautiful story, but a fascinating one.
And now for the recipe... drum roll please...