Sunday, April 1, 2012

Potatoes Za’tar


The people in this house form a very complicated Venn diagram when it comes to food preferences. One will eat fish, but not meat; one will eat chicken, but no other meat or fish bar canned tuna. One will eat potatoes; two scream if anything like a potato appears on the table. Four will eat bread and pasta, but one (me) has discovered that gluten is at the root of all her health problems. And so it goes.

Which is why I am so grateful for small things, like za'tar. It is one of the few foods that every person in the house absolutely loves. Spelled zatar, za'tar, za'atar and goodness knows how many other ways, it can refer to a herb (variously oregano, marjoram, thyme, hyssop or another herb) and also to a spice mix made with one or a combination of those herbs. The spice mix, which is what we love, contains za'tar herbs, toasted sesame seeds and salt; and sometimes also sumac.

If you've ever eaten Lebanese pizza crusted with oregano and sesame, that's za'tar. We buy the mix by the scoop out of a bin at the local middle eastern importers. The easiest way to eat it is to dip bread in olive oil, then in the za'tar, rather as one eats dukkah.

It's also a great way to spice up leftover pita. I mix one part zatar with one part olive oil, smear the paste on pita triangles, then pop them in the oven for a few minutes or until the zatar is bubbling. Eaten warm or cold, it makes a great snack for hungry kids. Za'tar is rumoured to be brain food, so bread and za'tar is a good choice for breakfast on a school day, or just before doing homework!

Lately, too, I've been eating za'tar on potatoes. Smearing potatoes with olive oil and za'tar, then baking them, has proved to be very simple and delicious. And if the potatoes are served alongside pita za'tar for the kids then, in an unusual feeling of unity necessary for my sense of family wellbeing, our Venn circles do, in a small way, very slightly overlap.

Potatoes Za'tar

- six medium sized potatoes
- 2 tbs za'tar
- 2 tbs olive oil

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).

Wash the potatoes and peel if necessary. Halve the potatoes lengthwise, or slice them into inch thick rounds. Place the potatoes into a steamer basket. Steam for seven to eight minutes or until a knife slips in easily. Remove from the heat.

Mix the za'tar and olive oil in a small bowl. Place the potatoes on a baking tray, then smear them with the za'tar mix.

Pop them in the oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the edges of the potatoes are turning golden and the za'tar is well and truly bubbling.

(Victoria: potatoes, olive oil. From many miles away but you don't need much: za'tar.)


  1. Sounds delicious and soooo easy, Alison. We actually have some za´taar sitting in the pantry. I could whip up some za´taar taties to have with our left over vegetable saag for dinner tonight. I can handle two cuisines on a plate.

    In our small household of two there are no complicated palates. Keep the cooked carrot out of meals and you are on a winner.

    I also have a gluten sensitivity. Thank goodness it is only sensitivity, so I can still eat ancient grains without issue. I might possibly die without bread.

  2. Hi Daffodil, Very very easy - now that's my kind of cooking right now! Haven't died yet without bread, it's been six months - and tastebuds change thank goodness so I no longer really desire it either. But with a family of potato haters, I'm eating a lot of rice - so much for local seasonal eating. Thus it's all been a bit slow on the old blog front! alison.

  3. Rice is also very versatile, although not very local. Having said that, in our old Brunswick neighbourhood, one of our neighbours from Viet Nam actually had a small rice paddy in his backyard. Now THAT is local rice.

  4. Rice in Brunswick??? Wow! We thought we were pretty spiffy in planning to grow bananas!!!