Zaatar is a spice and herbs mix commonly used in the Middle Eastern cuisine and Zeit is basically oil. This whole Zaatar o Zeit (Zaatar and oil) experience came to life here in Marrakech last week when I asked a family member coming from California to meet me half way in Europe next month to bring with him some Zaatar. In the past few years, I always brought zaatar with me from the US. His reaction was: what? You mean you want me to bring all the way from California Zaatar, why? Don’t you guys have Zaatar in Morocco?
Me: no, we don’t!
Him: what do people eat for breakfast? How can anyone survive without Zaatar?
Me: people eat Msmen (fried bread) here and bagrir (pancake) for breakfast and guess what Morocco is not the Middle East honey (ok, so it's my son I’m referring to)
For the last few years that I’ve lived in Morocco, I was constantly explaining to my family that we don’t have Labneh, hummus or falafel. We didn’t have any of that in the US when we moved many years ago. You guys down in Southern Cali are spoiled rotten thinking that everywhere you go they should have a hookah bar and a falafel stand on each corner! I explained that mom and dad – Tayta and Judo – use to make their own Labneh, Falafel, Zaatar, and many foods that were difficult to find when we first moved to America. Spoiled kids!
I accomplished making homemade Falafel here in Marrakech along with my famous Hummus and Baba Ghanouj so why not try my hands at making homemade Zaatar mix. I remember my ex-mother-in-law used to make it for my kids when they were little and she always said it’s much better than that junk they sell at the local Arabic store.
Growing up before exams my mom use to make me a Zaatar and Zeit sandwich because according to her Zaatar is good to keep my mind sharp and remember all the answers. Not sure how true is that? But it didn’t hurt at all!
To make the Zaatar mix stick to the bread, one should spread a thin layer of Labneh to hold all these little magical Zaatar from spreading all over your school bag.
A very popular breakfast item in the Middle East that is mainly made of dough and Zaatar is Mankouch or Manakeesh
Often or at least in my days back in Lebanon it was wrapped with old newspaper or recycled book pages, that would bleed into your Mankousheh. Hey, we survived!
I set out today to buy my ingredients to make my own Zaatar mix. The word Zaatar on its own is referred to the mix and also to the herb oregano and Thyme. Here in Morocco the word Zaatar is considered as a curse word in some situation or so I was told. Also, in Morocco there is Zaatar and there is Zaatera……one is Oregano and one is Thyme, make sense?!
Here are the ingredients to make your own Zaatar mix:
Add Salt/Pepper and some Sumac if available (I have to admit hard to find Sumac in Morocco I brought mine with me from the states) you can skip the Sumac if you can’t find it and still get a satisfying mix.
The first thing to do is clean the oregano and thyme as well as the sesame as they can be some rock and debris.
Once cleaned proceed to slightly roast the sesame seeds in a hot frying pan over medium heat to get the oil out and get a better taste.
Grind your cleaned dried oregano and thyme
Mix all ingredients together, store in airtight container. The mix will last for quite a while but trust me you will be using it on almost everything.
I use Zaatar with olive oil to make a paste and spread it on my Msmen. I use my Zaatar mix to sprinkle on my salad.
If there is no butter in your Msmen, you can spread the paste and place in a panini press, enjoy it as vegan savory, aromatic type of breakfast.
So, I won’t be needing that Zaatar bag from California after all!