So, I had a light dinner before a meeting recently with several Woodlands Garden friends, and Genia brought pita stuffed with za'atar, a spice blend used as a condiment. Genia directs a foundation that provides microcredit to small businesses in the Middle East, and she has traveled and lived there.
She sent me several recipes for za'atar and then I did a little research. It is made from dried thyme, toasted sesame seeds, sumac and salt.
Sandra Bowan, at "...A Pinch of..." explains that sumac comes from rhus corania, a tree that grows in the Middle East and in parts of Italy. The condiment, za'atar, is used as a meat rub, as a spread when mixed with olive oil, or it can be sprinkled on hummus.
I would describe the flavor as warm with a twist: the combination of the toasted sesame seeds and thyme contrasts with the sumac's pleasing piquancy that then finishes with a salty tang.
You can make it more easily than I can describe it:
2T dried thyme (be sure it is not merely flavored dust, get a new jar)
2t sesame seeds, toasted (or more if you are fond of them)
1T sumac (you can get this at a middle eastern market or on line at Penzey's)
1/2 t salt
I found it premade at the Dekalb Farmers Market this morning..
Anyway, have fun with this. It is a nice change from our usual palate.
(and thanks to Liz, for the picture of Cairo)