Za'atar Spice Blend

Last week, I spent several hours immersed in a sea of red leaves and berries in the golden autumn light of the Rockies, picking sumac ahead of an approaching storm.  Living here as long I have, I know well how quickly the fronts come in, and how snow forces a change in the foraging landscape.  Still, at the time, I had quiet doubts, wondering if I really needed to rush to collect sumac.

But this morning when the clouds lifted, and I saw the blanket of fresh snow covering the very spot in which I had harvested the sumac berries, I knew I had made the right choice.  To affirm this, I padded downstairs to my pantry, where the entire top of my chest freezer is covered in clusters of the fruit, and popped a few tart berries into my mouth.  Yep, good call, because this year's sumac is super sticky and tart, quite nearly ideal.  The snow storm surely washed away much of what is tasty on sumac, the oozing sap and surface fuzz.

To celebrate the bounty in my pantry, I decided to make za'atar, a Middle Eastern spice blend which often relies heavily up upon sumac.  I used some of the monarda fistulosa (aka wild oregano) that I picked over the summer in my mix, but you can use any dried herb that you enjoy, particularly ones which have a oregano, thyme, or mint-type flavor.  I also added dried nettle seeds because I happened to have them on hand, but I understand that this is an unusual ingredient, and the addition is completely optional.

Za'atar Spice Blend

1/4 c. toasted sesame seeds
2 T. ground sumac berries
1 T. dried nettle seeds (optional)
2 tsp. crumbled dried monarda fistulosa
1 tsp. salt

Grind the sumac, mondarda fistulosa, salt, and half the sesame seeds using a mortar and pestle, until the mixture resembles coarse sand.  Alternately, pulse the ingredients in a spice grinder, being careful not to over mix (which could result in sesame butter).  Stir in remaining sesame seeds, and the nettle seeds.

Za'atar makes a wonderful all-around table condiment, and is also delicious when used as a rub on meat, or as an addition to vegetable recipes.  When combined with olive oil, it makes a great marinade or topping for bread.  And if you're feeling adventurous, I highly recommend using za'atar on popcorn.


We're highlighting sumac at the Wild Things Round Up this month.  Do you have a sumac recipe that you'd like to share?  If so, send a link to

I'm sharing this recipe with Fat Tuesday at the Real Food Forager, and the Hearth and Soul Hop.


  1. Try zaatar on pizza with feta cheese, black olives, cubed tomatoes, and diced onions. Its heavenly, and I just really got in the mood for some!!!

  2. Penny, can you try something like this crust? I've tried it once, and it even held together on the grill.

    Darn you for passing on your pizza craving!!!!!

  3. Are you bringing Za'atar to this month's swap? Mmm.

  4. I suppose I could, especially seeing as I have no other cards up my sleeve. Do you think it would be popular, or is it too unusual? Sean's theory is that people like to trade for solid familiar items. I think he has a point. But the only other thing I have on hand is my plum jam with roasted poblanos and orange zest.

  5. I think you should try it. I'm certainly interested.Isn't there anything foraged that you have stored in greater quantities that you can bring?

  6. Thanks for linking your great post to FAT TUESDAY. Hope to see you next week! Be sure to visit on Sunday for
    Sunday Snippets – your post from Fat Tuesday may be featured there!

    If you have grain-free recipes please visit my Grain-Free Linky Carnival in support of my 28 day grain-free challenge! It will be open until November 2.

  7. I love making my own spices mixes! Thank you for sharing your recipes with the Hearth and Soul Hop.

  8. Wow, snow already! I'm glad you got to the sumac in time - your spice mixture sounds fantastic! Thank you for sharing it with the Hearth and Soul hop.

  9. Unfortunately I can't use oats... so that crust is a no go for me.

  10. Ok, so I do not live anywhere that I know where to forage for sumac. Can I buy this? We do have a spice store in town. The Za'atar sounds really interesting. I am new to this having found you through Penniless, through DIY naturally, through etc... Looking to turn things around for my family. 2 ADHD and 2 overweight and, though working now, my husband was laid off for more than a year. Wish I had found you ladies earlier. Still,never to late right? Any suggestions on getting away from convenience foods to self sufficiency?

  11. Ani - Heck yeah, utilize that spice shop! I used to be intimidated by them, but they are a great resource. They will let you taste for free, and buy in small quantities (inexpensive!).

    So true, never too late. The trick is not to get overwhelmed. You don't have to become self-sufficient overnight. Learn one of two supplemental foraged foods at a time, learn to love them, to incorporate them into your regular recipes, and you will be one step closer to reclaiming your own food destiny. Right now might be a good time to find apples. Everyone knows what apples look like, right, and they are family friendly.

  12. --From the photo it looks like you used Smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) rather than (the hairier) Staghorn sumac (R. typhina)for the za'atar. I'm from Massachusetts & the staghorn variety is more common here. The individual berries do have that lemony coating but have a very hard woody core. It seemed that you ground up that hard core in making your spice--am i correct? I tried separating the red tart part from the hard seed but it was impossible so i gave up. I thought that the hard parts would not be good in a mix--but perhaps i just need to grind them finely!
    I made a video on youtube about sumacade--check it out by typing my name--Blanche Derby-- in the search engine;it should come up.
    Thanx for your articles-- they're very informative...

  13. Blanche-

    Sometimes I leave the core in, and sometimes I sift it out after gently grinding the sumac. Have you tried giving it a few short buzzes in an electric spice grinder, then sifting?

    Also, yes, I do use prefer to use smooth sumac, even though we also have staghorn sumac here. I've found the flavor of smooth sumac to be dramatically more intense.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts