Making zaatar

September 19, 2013  •  Category:



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!”

custom zaatar mix

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).

ground zaatar in coffee mill

Then, a generous glob of extra-extra-virgin olive oil to seal the deal.

add olive oil

Fun companions in arms to partake in these slow-foods operations every year. foraging zaatar, drying it

pick early

Pick the zaatar when still in buds, they said.

zaatar for mix

Zaatar (in all its infinite varieties) can be planted or foraged. This one pictured here was grown in our garden in the Chouf Mountains.


12 Comments  •  Comments Feed

  1. Rosa says:

    That is one of my favorite spice mixes! Marvelous.



  2. Mark Wisecarver says:

    This is so awesome! I still buy mine on Amazon, not expensive at all and it’s from Lebanon. What I’ve been meaning to try is growing it here in the Tennessee mountains, it should do fine since Beirut is much like it is here, except I’m cheated out of the wonderful fresh fish.

  3. Belinda @zomppa says:

    Your own coffee grinder…kinda brilliant..,.

  4. Hélène (Cannes) says:

    J’utilise souvent le moulin à café pour broyer mes épices. Et puis un truc me chiffonne : J’ai une plante dans un pot qui ressemble vraiment à ça. je croyais que c’était du serpolet. C’est délicieux, je le mange frais. Il va falloir que je me penche sur le zaatar. D’habitude, je l’achète …

  5. Oui, Chef says:

    Oh my….I’ve never had a recipe so I could make my own….thank you, Joumana!

  6. Jonathan says:

    I can still picture the first time I ate zaatar, it was in Hamra, Beirut in 2007. It was liberally sprinkled on top of manakeesh, and exuded a brilliant mix of herbs (thyme specifically) and sesame seeds. Nowadays, I can simply go to any of New York City’s five boroughs to get my zaatar fix, but the first time was the most memorable.

  7. Sarah says:

    Which zaatar should I buy in the US, we live in GA?

  8. Maryann says:

    I was under the impression that the term Zaatar refers to the actual mix of herbs/spices that includes the sumac, thyme, oregano etc., with many families having their own special blend; and that the plant shown in the photos is (or looks like) the Middle Eastern variety of oregano.

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