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