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Regional Variation in Za'atar

post #1 of 5
Thread Starter 

I was buying some Haloum today and was exploring the aisles. They had three different versions of Za'atar but the ingredients were the same and in the same order except for the Aleppo Za-atar which was redder,finer ground and contained wheat. 

 

Jordaian, Lebanese and Aleppo

 

The Jordanian seems to have more sesame? The Lebanese looks a little greener and the Aleppo is distinctly redder and finer. 

 

But what sort of ratio differences are we talking about? Does anyone have insight into this? I love Za'atar and would like to know more. 

Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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post #2 of 5

My guess with the Aleppo--presumably Syrian-- za'atar would be that it is redder because of more sumac. I'm pretty sure it was in one of Claudia Roden's very through Middle Eastern cookbooks that I read that Syrian dishes, in particular, often have a sweet/sour interplay that isn't as common in other parts of the Middle East--which an extra jolt of sumac would certainly help to achieve.  Syrian dishes use more pomegranate molasses (again, that sour note, but also sweet)  than dishes from other Middle Eastern areas, too. (except for Persian cooking, which uses a lot of pomegranate molasses, too.) 

 

Apparently za'atar is one of those spice mixes often made at home with lots of regional and often closely guarded familial variations. It seems to be mostly a Levantine condiment--probably because that's where the thyme and sumac grow wild, though I did used to get Za'atar spread flat breads at the Iraqi bakeries in Detroit when I lived there. The Za'atar that I buy is mixed at the market where I buy it. They are Palestinian and the za'atar is quite green and heavily herbal. There's sumac in it, but you can't really see it. It's there but it's more subtle than other za'atars that I've had in the past.

post #3 of 5

I've heard there's a Jewish version, as well, but I've never tried it.

post #4 of 5

For each Jewish and Levantine grandmother, there is probably a single dedicated Za'atar recipe. 

post #5 of 5

I've tasted different za'atar mixtures and they're completely different from each other. Most were actually quite insipid.

 

But the best I've had is my own mixture, from a middle-eastern cookbook. I had no fresh thyme so I used thyme paste, and it tastes better than dried thyme in my opinion. The paste probably has added flavours to it. I spread thyme paste on flat bread and rub sumac and sesame seeds into it and then I realise what all the big deal is about za'atar.

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