My mom has always loved the ocean. Lucky for us, as it meant that we spent at least a few weeks a year enjoying time on the beach. We travelled all over the Mediterranean sea, primarily Italy, Greece and Turkey. Growing up in the mountains, this was a special treat. I still remember a dinner we had in Cefalú, a small fishing village along the northern coast of the island of Sicily. Sizzling on the grill were delicious lamb sausages that had a particularly interesting flavor that really spoke to me. It was tangy, aromatic and full of a complexity foreign to the Italian and Tyrolean cuisine I grew up with. I immediately fell in love with that unique taste but only much later realized that it was za’atar. To this day, sweet childhood memories return whenever I eat this spice mixture. Let me introduce you to the lovely flavor that is za’atar. Come and cook with us!
Za’atar consists of a mixture of a herb derived from a plant that combines the flavors of oregano, marjoram and thyme along with sumac and roasted sesame seeds. Sometimes it also contains salt. The exact recipe for the mixture varies by region and some families keep their very own secret mixture. It’s featured heavily in Lebanese, Turkish and North African cuisine, particularly as a dip or condiment along with olive oil. Today, many spice stores readily offer za’atar so we don’t have to start from scratch. The tangy sumac combined with the aromatic herbs and distinct sesame seed flavor add a particularly refreshing note to many dishes. I’ve used it to marinade and dry rub my lamb roasts, as a topping for my hummus, a dip for my pita bread and in most of my roasting vegetable dishes, particularly when they feature squashes and pumpkins, as they beautifully complement the tanginess of za’atar.
This week’s recipe is based on delicata squash, one of Jessica’s favorites. She made this dish last week when we were spending time together for our annual tomato canning party. If you feel adventurous, you can add a tahini-lemon dressing, inspiration courtesy of the ever-so-talented Yotam Ottolenghi. Hope you love it as much as we do. Come and cook with us!