There are many recipes for the herb blend known as za’atar, and many spellings for it. Also, several plants are known as za’atar. The nomenclature, as well as the type of plant, varies depending on the country you are in. It is generally agreed upon by scholars and cooks that Origanum syriacum is the true za’atar herb. Other herbs that have been called za’atar are hyssop (as referred to in the Bible and the Talmud); a species of savory (Satureja thymbra); and Thymbra, the genus of tender, thyme-like plants (Thymbra spicata). All of these plants have the same thing in common—the chemical constituent carvacrol—which gives the “oregano” aroma, flavor and bite to the tongue.
Some blends use all thyme or all oregano, while some combine the two. O. syriacum, the preferred za’atar herb, can only be had in the United States if you grow it, know someone who does or import it from the region around the Mediterranean area extending to Israel. However, O. maru, or Egyptian marjoram, is available in the United States.
If you don’t have O. syriacum, substitute thyme with an equal part marjoram and/or oregano. Use an oregano with some heat to it. I often use it as a dipping sauce by mixing 1/4 cup of the herb blend to 1/4 cup of olive oil. Add salt to taste. Store Za'atar Recipe in the refrigerator, tightly covered, for 3 or 4 days. Make the dipping sauce in advance so the herbs have time to flavor the oil. ZA'ATAR RECIPE MAKES 1/2 CUP
• 1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds
• 2 to 3 teaspoons kosher or coarse sea salt
• 2 tablespoons dried thyme leaves
• 1 tablespoon dried marjoram leaves
• 1 tablespoon oregano leaves
• About 1 tablespoon sumac, ground
Susan Belsinger, a longtime contributor to The Herb Companion, co-wrote The Creative Herbal Home (Creative Printing, 2007).
Click here to read the main article, Create Your Own Herbal Blends.