Making one’s own zaatar spice mix is the ultimate slow-food activity in Lebanon; I had been toying with the idea for years and wanted some pointers from local Lebanese mountain folks who could steer me away from the pitfalls. Everybody in the village forages and makes their own, of course; but this time, I was going to be in Beirut and asked my favorite 85-year young Miss Milady, (after all she makes her own grape molasses in her tiny kitchen in her village house and describes herself as ” a daughter of a Lebanese peasant).
I was asking Milady if I should take my dried zaatar (painstakingly dried for weeks in a well-ventilated area away from sun) to a mountain mill; her response was: ” What for? use your coffee grinder!”
Hey! Works for me! I had already toasted the sesame seeds in a dry skillet weeks prior and kept them in the freezer; the sumac had been dried and powdered (in a coffee mill) a bit too; in any case, I don’t like my zaatar to be too lemony ( from too much sumac) and prefer a bunch of golden sesame seeds (or even a bit of flaxseeds). Anything goes, see. (Besides got to be careful with the sumac, only the outer powdery husk is the good part, not the inner seed).
Then, a generous glob of extra-extra-virgin olive oil to seal the deal.
Pick the zaatar when still in buds, they said.
Zaatar (in all its infinite varieties) can be planted or foraged. This one pictured here was grown in our garden in the Chouf Mountains.