Thursday, September 2, 2010


Za'atar or zaatar as it is also commonly known is a Middle Eastern spice mix. I guess like most spice blends, it varies a little by region. I have seen Lebanese and Syrian versions of zaatar in the local spice shop, but I can also get a sort of generic version from Whole Foods, specialty shops and even Cost Plus. It is a combination of sesame seeds, thyme, sumac, marjoram or oregano and savory. I've read that even among families, the recipe is very guarded.

I really like using zaatar with lamb. I'm making lamb burgers for dinner and was prepared to scrap the whole idea unless I could come up with some zaatar. Of course you can make this yourself, but it is just as hard to find sumac as it is to find zaatar. If you do happen upon sumac, it's another spice worth having. It's a little lemony, slightly floral and it goes really well with lamb too. Zaatar also pairs really well with feta a quick recipe is to grill some flat bread, drizzle liberally with olive oil, sprinkle on some zaatar and crumbled feta. Apparently, many homes in the Middle East serve a variation of this for breakfast, simply using pita, zaatar paste (which is typically the spices mixed with olive oil) and lebneh which is similar to yogurt.

Adding a teaspoon or so of a new herb can really change some of your traditional recipes. I try to avoid most blends that have salt or any preservatives or colors added, but if they are straight up spices and herbs I am game.

Middle Eastern Lamb Burgers

1 pound ground lamb
2 tablespoons zaatar
salt to taste
cayenne pepper to taste
1/4 plain yogurt
1 lemon, juiced
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
arugula or watercress
bun or baguette

In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice and red onion. Set aside.

Mix zaatar, salt and pepper with the ground lamb and form into patties. Cook patties either on a hot grill or on the stove to desired doneness.

Drain the onions and serve on the burger with a drizzle of the yogurt and topped with the arugula or watercress.

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