6 Lebanese Recipes: Za'Tar

Discover the cherished flavor of Lebanese dishes

| October/November 1999

 One of the most cherished flavors in Lebanese cuisine is za’tar, the Arabic name for both Syrian oregano or Bible hyssop, (Origanum syriacum), a member of the mint family native of the Middle East and an herb blend in which it is the primary ingredient. The herb is gathered in the wild, dried, and then combined with other dried ingredients—usually sumac (the crushed fruits of Sicilian or elm-leaved sumac or tartak (Rhus coriaria), sesame seeds, and salt—and stored for use all year. Za’tar blends vary from village to village and family to family. Some people still make their own, but these days, most busy cooks buy them at Middle Eastern delis.

In Lebanon, the za’tar blend is served as the savory main ingredient of salads and as a tasty flavoring with early green olives. Tilmeh b’za’tar (bread with za’tar) is a favorite made by moistening the za’tar with olive oil and pressing it onto dough just before it is baked. Served hot or at room temperature for breakfast, lunch, appetizers, and evening snacks, this ”Lebanese pizza” is a popular offering at Lebanese bakeries.

The aroma of Mother’s tilmeh b’za’tar baking brought everyone around, and the loaves would disappear almost as fast as she could bake them. Mother says za’tar was called “brain food” in Douma and repeats the Arabic saying “Bread and thyme open the mind.” In Lebanon, some families eat tilmeh b’za’tar filled with tomatoes, fresh mint leaves, green onions, or labne (yogurt cheese) and folded like a taco. When there’s no time for baking, bakery bread is dipped in za’tar mixed with olive oil and eaten, accompanied by feta or homemade cheese and olives, for breakfast.

Click here for the original article, Food for the Soul: 6 Lebanese Recipes.

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