I still remember the first time I ever tasted za’atar. I was in high school at was staying over at a friend’s house for dinner. My friend’s mother pulled a warm, toasted pita bread out of the oven that was lightly covered with olive oil and a healthy dusting of some herb mixture that looked and smelled entirely foreign.
After one bite I was in love. In love with the tangy, nuttiness of the spices, which had completely transformed the humble round of pita. It wasn’t until many years later that I’d realize that what I had tasted was a spice blend from the Middle East called za’atar. Za’atar refers to both a wild varietal of thyme and the spice blend made from this herb. Za’atar is used in everything from stews to roasted vegetables. However, by far the most common use is similar to the way in which I first encountered it, as a topping for warm pita bread drizzled with olive oil.
In addition to the dried, wild thyme, Za’atar is typically made from sumac, sesame seeds, and salt. But there are many different varieties, and the za’atar found in Israeli will taste a little different from za’atar found in Lebanon or in Turkey.
Za’atar can be widely found now in specialty stores as well as many grocery stores throughout the U.S. However, if you’re having difficulty finding it, za’atar can also by ordered online at Kalustyan’s (my personal mecca) or Penzey’s.
The uses for za’atar seem endless. It can be used to enhance so many kinds of vegetables, bread, and meat, or even stirred into labneh or Greek yogurt. I also love it with a thicker, meatier fish.
Za’atar crusted cod
cook time 20 minutes
Though the recipe calls for cod, other meaty white fishes, such as haddock, will substitute just fine.
As with most recipes for sauteed fish, the most important thing to keep in mind is the cook time of the fish. It is difficult to give precise timing for this in recipes since each piece of fish, not to mention kitchen equipment, is highly variable. The fish should still be a bit firm to the touch, rather than flaky, when removed from the pan.
1 tbsp za’atar
½ tsp pepper
½ tsp salt
1 tbsp flour
2 6-ounces pieces of cod
1/2 tbsp butter
1 ½ tbsp olive oil
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp lemon juice
¼ cup Greek yogurt
Combine za’atar, pepper, salt, and flour in a shallow mixing bowl. Dredge the cod in the flour mixture, ensuring both sides are coated.
Heat butter and one tablespoon of oil in medium skillet of medium heat. Add the fish to the pan, skin side down if fillet has skin. Fry the cod until the flour coating browns before flipping, cooking about 3 minutes per side.
Remove fish from pan and put on serving plate.
Whisk together 1 teaspoon of olive oil with lemon juice, yogurt, and salt to taste. Top cod with a heaping tablespoon of yogurt sauce.