Za'atar is a classic Middle Eastern spice blend that is both tangy and refreshing. Za'atar is generally made from sumac, thyme, roasted sesame seeds, and sea salt. While many of za'atar's ingredients are found also in Mediterranean cuisine, it’s a staple in the Middle East. Za'atar is a synch to make at home by combining an equal amount of the spices listed above with salt and pepper to taste. Of course, when time is an issue, you can also find it in many supermarkets and Middle Eastern shops, find kosher Zaatar here (it makes a great Father's day gift).
**Make your own Za'atar by combining 1 tablespoon each of sumac, thyme, roasted sesame seeds and sea salt, you can also add marjoram and/or oregano if desired and adjust all to taste. (If you can't eat sesame seeds then leave them out. If you don't have sumac it won't be quite the same, but you can try zested lemon peel).**
The best thing about za'atar is how incredibly versatile it is. You can use za'atar to brighten up simple salads, yogurts or sprinkle it on meat. Toss it with some nuts and roast them and you have a healthy alternative to the more common salted nuts found on coffee tables everywhere. You can even just mix za'atar with some olive oil and have the perfect dip for bread. It really doesn’t matter what you are making, you can find a way to incorporate za'atar and revive any old recipe!
And that's exactly how this recipe was born.
I grew up in Deal, New Jersey, which has one of the largest Syrian Jewish communities in the world; which means, I was raised in an area filled with lahamagine connoisseurs. Lahamagine among many other Syrian delicacies, were made famous by Deal's very own celebrity cookbook writer, Poopa Dwek.
If you're not familiar with Middle Eastern cuisine, then I highly recommend making this recipe and getting acquainted with it and za'atar. Middle Eastern food is known for its flavorful dishes and strong spices such as za'atar. In this recipe the za'atar's presence is felt with every bite and it helps bind the lahamagine's different flavors together.
Like I said, I know lahamagine from growing up in a Syrian neighborhood, and as we all know Syria is Israel's neighbor. I will also say this, I certainly felt a lot more comfortable asking for a cup of sugar in Deal than; well, I think you get the picture. After the War of Independence many members of the Jewish community in Syria made their way to Israel and the cuisine, once enjoyed in cities such as Aleppo or Damascus, is now loved in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
This recipe isn’t for the traditional lahamagine, which consists of spiced chopped meat and dough and is normally baked in the oven. In this recipe the grilling itself provides the lahamagine with a smoky flavor and the dough with a satisfying crunch. I swapped some semolina for normal flour to help emphasize the deep bite of the dough. It really hits you though when your eyes start to flicker from the flavor of the grilled lahamagine. The sweetness of the dates mixed with earthiness of the meat, and then the za'atar covered pine nuts give everything that final oomph of nuttiness that sends the whole dish over the moon.
Try my Zaatar Lahamagine today!