Za’atar, a spice blend popular throughout the Middle East, is ideally a blend of hyssop, sumac, sesame seeds, salt, and other seasonings. Jewish food historian and cookbook author Gil Marks notes that hyssop appears frequently in the Bible, playing an especially prominent role in the Passover story, where Jews were instructed to add hyssop to the blood they smeared on their doorposts.Sumac, the dried and ground red berry that lends za’atar its distinct tanginess, is referenced in the Talmud as a cultivated spice.
These days za’atar blends made in Israel often do not contain hyssop, since it is a protected agricultural species there. Instead, oregano and thyme serve as stand-ins. Za’atar is delicious lavished on warm bread dipped in olive oil, in marinades for meat and poultry, and sprinkled on labneh (tangy thickened yogurt) and hummus.
Here, it lends a distinct accent to this tomato-bread salad–a perfect use for day-old or frozen pita. Serve this salad as a side dish, or make it into a main course with the addition of feta cheese for a dairy meal or grilled chicken breasts for meat.
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
4 teaspoons za’atar, plus more for garnishing
3 Tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 whole pita breads, cut into 8 triangles
3 large tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 scallions, greens and whites included, thinly sliced
1 Tablespoon chopped parsley
Preheat oven to 350F. Place pita triangles on a cookie sheet and toast for 12 minutes, until pitas are dry and fragrant. Remove from oven, cool, and reserve.
To make vinaigrette, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, za’atar, garlic, salt, and pepper. In a large bowl combine toasted pita, tomatoes, scallions, parsley, and vinaigrette. Divide salad among 4 bowls and sprinkle with additional za’atar.
Pronounced: KOH-sher, Origin: Hebrew, adhering to kashrut, the traditional Jewish dietary laws.