My Mother’s Za’atar, plus Labneh
- 1/2 cup of coriander seeds
- 1/2 cup of cumin seeds
- 3 tablespoons of sesame seeds
makes a little less than a cup
- 1 cup of greek yogurt
- pinch of salt
- 1/2 teaspoon of dry mint
- 1 tablespoon of zatar
- good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
The year is 1990, Greenwich CT. I’m in kindergarten and my teacher is going around the room asking everyone what they ate for breakfast that day. Some kids said eggs, some said pancakes, pop tarts were for sure mentioned, and then it was my turn. I proudly and confidently yelled out “Lebneh.” My teacher and fellow classmates looked slightly confused. I of course had no idea that Lebneh wasn’t an american dish, and as far as I knew it was as common as two eggs over easy with a side of bacon. I went on to explain what it was, and the confusion remained, it was then I realized that though I was born in america I was very different from my classmates. With a mother who grew up in Egypt, and a father from Lebanon, the food I grew up eating was most diffinetly not common in my home town. This became something I was slightly embarrassed about. I totally got over it with time and now proudly introduce these dishes to friends, and now to you all!
Now let me explain exactly what Lebneh is, but first let’s start with what makes it special; za’atar.
Za’atar is a middle eastern mix of spices that can be used in many different ways. You can add olive oil to it, and eat as a dip with pita bread. It’s great on hummus, or used to spice meats, vegetables, and fish. But I most commonly use it with Labneh which is a strained yogurt, thick and slightly sour in flavor, which you season with za’atar, olive oil, olives and eat as a sort of dip with pita bread. It’s usually prepared as a breakfast dish, but I have no rules when it comes to this…I pretty much eat it everyday, day or night. You can find Lebnah at middle eastern specialty stores, but you can also use greek yogurt, or regular yogurt that you’ve strained with cheese cloth over night. Greek yogurt is easiest to use, and super easy to find.
For the za’atar, in a medium frying pan on medium heat, toast, occasionally tossing around, the coriander seeds till fragrant and golden, about 2 minutes. Keep a close eye on them as they can burn easily. Once toasted, transfer coriander seeds to a bowl to cool.
Next, in the same pan, on medium heat, toast the cumin seeds till fragrant and darker in color for a little over a minute. Make sure to toss with a wooden spoon while they’re toasting, again they can burn easily. Transfer the cumin to the bowl of coriander seeds to cool as well.
Now, on the same pan, toast the sesame seeds till golden in color for about 30 second tossing the whole time. These toast very fast. Turn of heat, and transfer sesame seeds to a different small bowl.
Using a coffee grinder, place a few spoonfuls of the cumin coriander seed mixture at a time. Grind to a fine powder. Transfer ground the ground cumin and coriander to a new bowl. Grind all till all the seeds of ground.
Mix in the sesame seeds into the ground cumin and coriander mixture. And now you got yourself some za’atar! Store in a jar at room temp. Done!
For the Labneh, spread yogurt onto a plate. Season with salt, and sprinkle dry mint on top. Add the zatar to one side, and drizzle oive oil over the labneh. Serve with some olives and eat with pita bread.