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Aromatic Zahtar & Feta Cheese in Puff Pastry; Inspirations from Antakya

Antakya's 2,000 years old Long Market, Uzun Carsi; home to aromatic spices, copperware and endless food stalls.

Antakya’s 2,000 years old Long Market, Uzun Carsi; home to aromatic spices, copper ware and endless food stalls.

I got wildly excited when I spotted the Zatar (or Zahtar, Za’atar, Zatar or Dukkah) spice blend at my local Waitrose the other day. I grew up with this rich, pungent spice blend in Antakya, Antioch. Fresh Zahter or Zahtar is a popular herb grown in southern part of Turkey, especially around Kilis and Antakya in spring.  Fresh zahter looks more like summer savory, or a crossing of marjoram, oregano and thyme. This herb is wonderful on salads like this Zeytin Ufeleme, Olive salad with pomegranate molasses and zahtar.

Pungent, tangy zahtar or za'atar blend.

Pungent, tangy zahtar or za’atar blend; adds a lot of flavor  salads, dips and marinations.

Za’atar is also the name given to the exotic blend of herbs, spices and nuts, widely used in Southern Turkish as well as Middle Eastern cooking. At my home town, Antakya, zahtar blend is a rich mixture of dried zahter, sesame seeds, crushed cooked chickpeas, cumin, nigella seeds, sea salt, sumac and many more. It has a lovely, pungent, nutty taste and flavors salads, meat, and vegetables beautifully. In Antakya, locals simply dip their bread to a bowl of olive oil than to this zahtar blend for a delicious breakfast.

Spices galore at Uzun Carsi, Long Market - Antakya

Spices galore at Uzun Carsi, Long Market – Antakya

Home made Zahtar Blend:

The exotic Zahtar blend varies region to region. According to my mother, “There are 40 different herbs, spices and nuts in the zahtar mixture.” Maybe not all the 40, but here is my mother’s home made zahtar blend that covers the basic zahtar mixture that I grew up with. It is deliciously tangy, nutty and herby. This aromatic blend adds a lot of flavor when marinating meat, fish, poultry and vegetables. Zahtar blend is also wonderful in savory pastries and bread, as well as in dips:

1 tbsp. wild oregano or marjoram (or regular oregano, if the wild version not available)

1 tbsp. ground, cooked chickpeas

1 tbsp. sesame seeds

1 tbsp. ground sumac

½ tbsp. thyme

2 tsp. ground cumin

2 tsp. ground pistachio

1 tsp. salt (please adjust to your taste)

1 tsp. ground black pepper

Combine all the ingredients and mix well; I love the different textures and aroma you get in the zahtar blend. Store za’atar or zahtar in a cool, dark place in a plastic zip bag or in an airtight container. When stored properly, za’atar can be used for a good couple of months.

 Pungent Zahtar with Feta Cheese in Puff Pastry:

Aromatic Zahtar with feta cheese and tomatoes on puff pastry.

Aromatic Zahtar with feta cheese and tomatoes on puff pastry.

Bakery, Ekmek Firini, at Long Market, Uzun Carsi, Antakya.

Bakery, Ekmek Firini, at Long Market, Uzun Carsi, Antakya; locals take their filling to the bakery to be baked over the stretched baker’s dough.

I used my aromatic Zahtar blend at this easy, delicious puff pastry with feta cheese. This is my mother’s recipe and she used to prepare this filling with zahtar and we would take it to the local bakery in Antakya’s 2,000 years old Uzun Carsi (Long Market) to bake for us. I remember being mesmerized by the smells, happy childhood days. The nutty, tangy zahtar flavors the feta wonderfully and natural yoghurt adds a lovely, creamy texture. I also like the little touch of heat through the red pepper flakes, pul biber.

Serves 4 -6

Preparation time: 15 – 20 minutes                                               Cooking time: 30 minutes

320 gr / 11 oz. puff pastry (350mmx 230mm)

15ml/ 1 tbsp. natural thick yoghurt (whole milk is preferred)

30 ml/ 2 tbsp. zahtar blend

½ tsp. Turkish red pepper flakes (pul biber) or chili flakes

200gr / 7 oz. feta cheese, crumbled

15 ml/ 1 tbsp. olive oil

8 – 10 cherry tomatoes, coarsely sliced

Preheat the oven to 180 C/ 350 F

If using frozen puff pastry, let the pastry thaw completely, either overnight in the refrigerator or for 45 minutes at room temperature, before using it. If you are using fresh puff pastry, take out from the fridge 10 minutes before using and remove from its carton. To prevent sticking, unroll the pastry on a lightly floured surface, using a lightly floured rolling pin.

Mix zahtar with the feta cheese and yoghurt.

Mix zahtar with the feta cheese and yoghurt.

Combine the crumbled (you can mash the cheese with a fork) feta cheese, yoghurt, olive oil, zahtar and red pepper flakes in a bowl and mix well. For a richer & spicier taste, you can also add ½ tablespoon red pepper paste, biber salcasi to the mixture.

Spread the zahtar & feta filling over the puff pastry.

Spread the zahtar & feta filling over the puff pastry.

Grease a baking tray with 1 tbsp. olive oil and place the puff pastry sheet. Spread the zahtar & feta mixture evenly over the top and decorate with the sliced tomatoes. Bake in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes, or until the pastry starts to turn golden and cooked thoroughly.

Puff pastry with zahtar and feta, ready to enjoy.

Puff pastry with zahtar and feta, ready to enjoy.

Serve the pastry warm immediately. This simple but delicious Shepherds Salad of Cucumbers, Tomatoes and peppers, Coban Salata, complements this pastry well.

Puff pastry with Zahtar, feta and tomatoes

Puff pastry with Zahtar, feta and tomatoes

Afiyet Olsun,

Ozlem

Ozlem’s Turkish Table at the Mommypage

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Mum and family friendly website Mommypage recently featured a wonderful interview with Ozlem’s Turkish Table;  check out to learn more about Turkish cuisine and how to make delicious and family friendly Turkish recipes from the Circassian Chicken with Walnuts to Tray kebab with roasted vegetables, from filo pastry rolls with feta to homemade baklava and more! There are also wonderful tips for all the family at Mommypage, worth checking out.

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18 Responses to Aromatic Zahtar & Feta Cheese in Puff Pastry; Inspirations from Antakya

  1. jaz September 17, 2013 at 11:36 am #

    i would love to go to one of those markets! i’ve bought this spice mixture before but now i can make it myself! wonderful! thank you so much!

    • Ozlem Warren September 17, 2013 at 8:13 pm #

      Thanks to you too Jaz : ) It is lovely to make your own zahtar blend, and I am now liberally using it on almost every savory dish! And I do hope you make it to Long Market in Antakya, a timeless, fascinating market..

  2. Peri September 18, 2013 at 3:28 am #

    Thanks for introducing me to zaatar, Ozlem, absolutely love this spice blend! Now I add it to roast vegetable and meat:) So great to read the mommy pages interview:) xxPeri.

    • Ozlem Warren September 18, 2013 at 8:35 am #

      Cheers Peri, we do love zahtar too! We added some to our chicken and vegetables bake last night, wonderful to get tangy, herby, nutty flavors all at once:)
      Ozlem xx

  3. Barbara September 18, 2013 at 6:46 am #

    Özlem, after reading about Zahtar in Ottolenghi’s recipes I finally ordered some from a Lebanese online spiceshop. And now you come up with such a delicious recipe! Can’t wait to try it out over the coming weekend – merci!

    • Ozlem Warren September 18, 2013 at 8:33 am #

      You’re welcomeBarbara, glad you’re giving Zahtar a try:) It is a very versatile blend and packed with flavor, hope you enjoy it!:)

  4. Alan September 18, 2013 at 9:24 am #

    Oh, my!

    • Ozlem Warren September 18, 2013 at 12:56 pm #

      I wonder if you can forage fresh zahtar at your neck of the woods Alan, I bet there is a treasure out there:)

  5. April Ozbilgin September 18, 2013 at 3:27 pm #

    Wow, I can almost smell the zahtar by looking at all the lovely pictures. Luckily, I can get it here in Alabama. It is also good to put on some trained yogurt or sour cream and use as a dip! Great post as usual Ozlem!

    • Ozlem Warren September 18, 2013 at 5:01 pm #

      Cok tesekkurler April, wonderful that you can get zahtar in Alabama; in Antakya, folks enjoy zahtar on salted strained yoghurt called tuzlu yogurt, salty yoghurt, similar to your idea. Cok selamlar, Ozlem

  6. senior dogs abroad September 18, 2013 at 4:02 pm #

    [Marked as spam by Antispam Bee | Spam reason: Server IP]
    Özlem, We were first introduced to zahtar in the predominantly Jewish neighborhood of Brookline, Mass. After that, we noticed that the Middle Eastern bakeries in neighboring Watertown, Mass. were daily making zahtar bread, an especially yummy treat. So now, we’re really excited to be reminded of how much we loved it and that to learn that we can make it at home. Thanks so much for bringing back the nice memories and for the recipe – it sounds great.

    • Ozlem Warren September 18, 2013 at 5:05 pm #

      Merhaba Jolee, what a small world isn’t it; I love how food connects us all, you enjoying zahtar bread in Mass.; just wonderful. You can get a top notch quality zahtar blend in Spice Market – Istanbul; Malatya Pazari does that. But it is also very satisfying to make your own; I am glad the post brought happy memories: ) Cok selamlar, Ozlem

  7. Anastasia September 18, 2013 at 4:47 pm #

    What a wonderful discovery you are thanks to Peter @ Kalofagas.ca!!
    I am a Greek girl, many years away from home but still cooking & recreating the favorites of my childhood. It always amazes me how intricately cultures & foods are interwoven- One culture bleeding off into another and another and creating this rich blended tapestry made of food, & drink & dance… But I digress .. your site is wonderful & welcoming to visit & I swear I can smell those spices from your pictures! I have all of what I need to make your wonderful Zahtar blend right in my cabinet! – between you and Peter’s beautiful site I feel like I just flew back in from a wonderful trip abroad each time I open a post…my sincere thanks for sharing, me agapi…
    P.S When are you coming to California??

    • Ozlem Warren September 18, 2013 at 5:00 pm #

      So lovely to have you here Anastasia, kalimera! I greatly enjoy Peter’s Kalofagas, Greek food and the cultural and culinary heritage we share, it is wonderful. I am delighted to have you here and hope you enjoy many more recipes, my best wishes! Ozlem

    • Ozlem Warren September 18, 2013 at 5:05 pm #

      Forgot to mention Anastasia, how I would love to come to CA!! I hope soon, thanks again for stopping by.

  8. Sherri Stroebel November 25, 2014 at 12:35 am #

    I am definitely making the Zahtar blend, I love one that I can buy here in the states but it doesn’t have some of the ingredients you list here. Can you tell me more about the ground cooked chickpeas? I’m not sure how to prepare that (or can you buy it?)

    • Ozlem Warren November 25, 2014 at 12:01 pm #

      Merhaba Sherri, many thanks for your kind note, so glad you’ll have a go at making your own zahtar blend. You can make ground chickpeas from cooked chickpeas. Let them air dried and then blitz in a food processor and air dry again if it is still moist. Then blend this with the rest of the spices and sesame seeds, hope you enjoy it!

    • Ozlem Warren November 25, 2014 at 12:04 pm #

      Hi again Sherri, if you live in Turkey, the ground chickpeas are sold as leblebi tozu and dried cooked chickpeas are called leblebi, a popular nut mix at home, you may be able to get at Middle Eastern or specialty stores abroad too, hope it helps.

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