What's Fabulous: Zesty Z Za'taar
Za’taar is one of the most popular spice mixes. Named for a wild herb that grows in the Middle East, za’taar can include dried thyme, hyssop, oregano, marjoram, sesame seeds, sumac, salt and sometimes, the namesake wild herb itself.
All za’taars are not alike. There are versions from Syria, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Algeria, Morocco, Turkey, Lebanon and everywhere else in the Middle East. For example, in Syria it may be combined with ground roasted chickpeas and fennel and other spices before being used in cooking; in Jordan, pistachios are sometimes added.
Regardless which version you favor, za’taar is always bold and aromatic and like any good spice mix, it’s used to give flavor and personality to simple ingredients. In my city kitchen, I use it to turn plain broiled boneless chicken thighs into a fast but tasty dinner by first rubbing them with olive oil and then a big pinch or two of the spice mix. Or I’ll sprinkle it on a bowl of hummus or Greek yogurt to serve with raw vegetables. It’s also terrific sprinkled on scrambled eggs.
You can make your own za’taar. Or you can buy it already assembled at a good spice shop like Kalustyan’s which sells a half dozen or so versions from across the Middle East. I usually buy one from Lebanon that's made with dried thyme, sumac, toasted sesame seeds, and salt. I try not to buy too much at any one time so that the flavors don’t fade, an easy risk with any spice.
So that’s what I always thought za’taar was all about and that a dry spice mix was the only way to get its amazing Mediterranean flavor. But I've just discovered there is another way.
Zesty Z Za’taar
Last month I was at the Fancy Food Show at Manhattan’s Javits Center. It’s the annual and rather insanely bountiful tradeshow that features nearly seven thousand food producers from around the world – you’ll see everything except fresh produce, meat or fish. A lot of fancy food, indeed.
Every exhibitor wants you to taste the products they’re showcasing to retailers, restaurants, caterers, and anyone else who buys food wholesale. The selections are vast: who knew we had such appetites?
I go every year because it’s a great way to spot food trends and find new products, plus I love talking to the exhibitors, many of whom have bet their retirement funds on launching a product they passionately believe in. Many items that you may now take for granted – sriracha, Rick’s Picks, Hella Bitters, cheese straws, toasted chickpeas, and dozens of others -- got their first public stage at this show and knowing this makes the show particularly exciting.
This was my 10th yearly visit and by now I'm a Fancy Food pro. I knew to have targets before you enter the caverns of the convention center because otherwise, the show will overwhelm you. I arrived wearing comfortable shoes, with a resolve to taste no more than ten samples (it’s the key to avoiding weight gain and indigestion; sometimes it seems that every other booth is hawking either chocolate or hot sauce). I carried a light tote bag with a bottle of water, pen and notebook, and an exhibitors list I’d already culled from the show’s organizers’ website. My first stop was the section dedicated to state-specific producers. First up: New York.
As I scanned my hometown aisle, jammed with booths offering flavors of cookies, artisanal tonic water, smoked fish, pickles, chocolate sauce, kosher hot dogs, and much more, I spotted a company called Zesty Z. There I met Alexander Harik and his mother, Lorraine Harik, making their first appearance at the show and with great spirit and charisma, pitching their product -- Zesty Z Za’taar.
Invented and made in Brooklyn, Zesty Z Za’taar is Lorraine Harik’s recipe for za’taar but instead of a dry spice mix it’s a versatile savory spread that’s like za’taar jam.
Lorraine Harik’s za’taar is a classic Lebanese recipe (dried thyme, sumac, toasted sesame seeds, oregano, salt) and combined with olive oil. Its flavor is intense so a little goes a long way. The first way I tasted Zesty Z was dabbed on hummus and I was immediately hooked. You can use it as you might a traditional dry spice blend but because its combined with olive oil, it’s easy to spread on burgers, salads, yogurt, cheese, hummus, grilled chicken breasts, fish, or any other dish that would be enhanced by za’taar’s flavors.
Zesty Z’s Za’taar spread is vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free, and despite its bold flavor, it’s low-sodium.
If you need more ideas for what to do with it, Zesty Z’s website has lots of recipes, complete with photos, that showcase how to use the za’taar spread. A good way to start might be with their Goat Cheese and Za’taar Turkey Burger. Here's the recipe.
The spread is very intensely flavored and so a little can go a long way. It’s also shelf stable and Alexander Harik, who left a career in finance to start this company with his mother, advises to not refrigerate it, even after the jar is open, as it will safely keep for up to three months.
You can buy Zesty Z Za’taar at the company’s website and at Amazon. But as a sign of how terrific this new product is, it’s also already sold across the country. In the New York area you can find it at Zabar’s, Westerly Natural Market, Morton Williams, Brooklyn Fare, Stinky Brklyn, Whole Foods, West Side Market, and a bunch of other markets that are listed on their website. A 7.5 oz. (213 gr.) jar sells for about $9 to $12 (it's $8.99 at my Whole Foods, $11.98 at Zabar's and both stores stock it alongside products like tapenade).
If you love the flavors of Middle Eastern cuisine and want a new way to bring them into your cooking and snacks, Zesty Z Za’taar is a wonderful new product. Highly recommended and made in New York City.