Za’atar – The All Purpose Middle Eastern Spice Mix

I’m preparing a talk for this weekend on Jewish Gardening at Spavuot, a Jewish health and wellness retreat at the Shalom Institute in Malibu.

Few people realize that Judaism is firmly rooted in agriculture.  Many Jewish holidays have agricultural roots:  Passover at  planting, Sukkot at harvest, Tu b’shvat marks bud break in spring, and so on.  Plants and trees, fruits and nuts are woven throughout the Torah, both literally and figuratively.

Oreganum syraca, Za'atar Oregano, a key ingredient in the Middle Eastern spice mix of the same name

Many Jewish traditions incorporate planting and respect for nature, particularly for fruit trees.  Pomegranate, fig, grape, etc. translate directly  from ancient agriculture to modern gardening practices, many of which I will cover on Sunday, as I talk about how to grow these same fruits and vegetables in home gardens.

I always like to send people home from my talks with something in-hand to inspire their gardening spirits.  At the end of this talk, everyone will go home with a Za’atar plant.  Za’atar is a special variety of oregano (some people refer to it as a marjoram) used in the all-purpose Middle Eastern spice mix of the same name.  Za’atar mixture is typically sprinkled onto olive oil-slathered pita, roasted chicken, fresh vegetables, hummus, and many other foods.

Za’atar mixes sold at specialty markets are made from dried herbs, but it can be made from fresh herbs, too.  In fact, its even more flavorful with fresh herbs.

Fresh or dried, Za’atar is simple to make.

Za’atar from dried herbs

2 tablespoons oregano
2 tablespoons thyme
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
2 tablespoons marjoram
1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 cup sumac

Store-bought Za'atar spice mix

Grind  sesame seeds in food processor or with mortar and pestle. Combine with the rest of the herbs.

Dried Za’atar will keep in an airtight container for several months.

Za’atar from fresh herbs is far more potent so the proportions need some adjusting, based on your taste preferences.  Store the fresh mixture in the refrigerator. Its best to mix small batches as it keeps only a week or two.


There’s still time to sign up for Spavuot which is being held Sunday, May 20th, at The Shalom Institute in Malibu. Click here to register

Spavuot is a project of The Big Jewish Tent, an organization headed by my childhood friend Craig Taubman and co sponsored by the Shalom Institute.