February 13, 2019

Homemade Hummus, Baked Pita and Za'atar

A beautiful meal of homemade baked pita, hummus and za'atar spice.
Kalamata olives, dill pickles, and fresh tomato are nice additions.

Linda and I have made lots of homemade baked pita breads over the years. And we are big fans of making our own hummus. But we have never attempted to make our own za'atar spice before yesterday.

The only time I have tasted za'atar spice was when Linda smuggled some street bread out of Palestine, where she spent several seasons on an archaeological dig. One year, just before having to say good-bye to one of her favourite countries, she bought a couple of servings of street cart bread, just for me. 

Of course, the bread came with small folded newspaper envelopes full of za'atar spice, which was meant for the bread to be dipped. It was all she  could do to not eat it all on her flight home.

But she made it all the way back to Canada without enjoying this traditional mid-east treat. Lucky for me.

That was the first time I had ever experienced za'atar spice. I had never eaten anything like it before, or since, until we whipped some up to go with our baked pita and hummus yesterday.

Za'atar spice is used in many middle eastern regions, and can be enjoyed on a variety of dishes. While there is a standard recipe that includes sumac, many families have their own variations that are well guarded.

We decided to make what will surely become our own staple "not-so-secret" recipe. Naturally, we wanted to use only what we already had in the house, so as to not have to buy anything. 

Here is what we threw together (including rough measurements):

The NBA Za'atar Spice Blend

  • 1 tbsp savoury (we used summer savoury that we grew ourselves) 
  • 1 tbsp thyme 
  •  1 tsp basil
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric 
  • 1/2 tsp caraway seeds 
  • 1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds 
  • 1 tsp salt 

After making our spice blend we wanted to try it right away. As soon as the first baked pita came out of the oven we ripped it open, sprinkled in our za'atar spice generously on the still steaming bread, and bit in. 

Holy middle eastern munchie magic, Breadman! Wow. 

So pleased we were with our spice melange, that we also sprinkled some on our hummus, with great results.

When Linda took her first bite she said that she was instantly transported back. 

"It reminds me", she said, "of the old city in Jerusalem - spicy, exotic, mysterious, and tasty, not to mention hot and dusty". 

"Every time I went there", she remembered, "this is what I had for breakfast. Fresh, warm bread, dipped in a small envelope of za'atar spice, and eaten out on the street next to the cart vendor I bought it from."

It sure was nice of her to bring me back a bit of cuisine from her travels, so many years ago. Now it is even nicer that we can experience a bit of the same right here in our own kitchen in Digby, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Give it a try - it's a taste sensation. Since it is a very flexible recipe, use what you have in your spice drawer to make your own special blend.


  1. Sounds wonderful. We make our own hummus also.

    1. Hummus is yummus, easy to make, and good for you and the planet. Pita is pretty good, too. But za'atar spice is out of this world. Next time we will skip the turmeric since za'atar is traditionally a green herb mixture. Plus, the turmeric does not mix well with the other spices, ending up at the bottom.

      Eat and learn!

  2. That looks amazing! My husband's family is Lebanese and we often make food that leans in that direction. Yum. What is savoury though? I recognise the rest of the ingredients....

    1. Savoury is native to North America, and is an annual herb. Since we grew some, we have been using it as a substitute for oregano. It is a green herb, so works well in za'atar.

    2. Ah ok. I've never heard of it. We grow oregano though so I'll use that. Thanks!

  3. This makes my Palestinian refugee heart very happy to read:) Zaatar tastes like home! I am fortunate to live close enough to a Lebanese grocery store that makes fresh pita bread so i dont have to make it at home. On Saturday mornings we often pick up manaeesh (the hot pita bread “pizzas” with zaatar)! So delicious! Sahtain (enjoy)!

    1. We were looking up recipes for baked pita, and during that search, came across manaeesh. And through that recipe, we started to formulate our own zaatar. So good. Next time we will make manaeesh. Linda is sure she has had it. I would love to be able to pick it up from someone that knows what they are doing.

  4. If you can get the book from your library or purchase it, I highly recommend the cookbook called “Bethlehem: Beautiful Resistance Recipes” by Dr. Abusrour and Manal Oder. On page 46 there is a recipe for thyme bread that tastes just right. It is labor intensive (and with a young child not something I can do right now) but my Mom made it for us during the holidays and it was very tasty. The book has great recipes and people’s stories with beautiful images.

    1. We will be looking for your recommended cookbook. I sounds beautiful. And tasty. Thank you for the suggestion. Thyme bread sounds wonderful, and we are very interested to hear the stories, and witness the images.

  5. Gregg and Linda, that is pure true love to bring fresh bread all the way to you in Canada. I'm going to make this, especially the spice. Nadya, thank you so much for the book reference and so much information and you too Gregg and Linda!! Wow! This looks amazing!
    I've tried, numerous times to make hummus. Failed every time. I occasionally buy it already made.
    What an wild and wonderful life you have had. You experiences enlighten me often.

    P.S. Update: I bought some tofu per your suggestion the other day. Haven't prepared it yet, but intend to soon.

    1. It really was so nice of Linda to share a piece of her experience with me in this way. She is an amazing friend.

      Do you have a blender for making hummus? We put in one can of drained chick peas, a clove of garlic, a splash of lemon juice, and just enough chick pea juice to blend it all up. We might also add a bit of sesame oil and a tablespoon or two of plain yogurt. It takes some effort to push everything down to the bottom of the blender to make sure it all gets blended together into a creamy smooth treat.

      You are brave to try tofu. Most people say they don't like it without ever trying it. They have even turned it into an insult when they denigrate "soy boys", meaning weak, tofu-eating wimps. How can you be a real man if you don't eat meat? I guess cancer is manly.

      There are so many ways to prepare tofu. We only buy extra firm, unless we need softer stuff, say to blend into a creamy soup, or to put into a smoothie. It freezes well, and is not greasy, like meat is.

  6. Gregg, thank you for these tips about making hummus and especially about tofu. I bought extra firm per your suggestion. Nice to hear you can add the creamier kind to soups and smoothies. I will certainly try. Nice to know it freezes, I have it in the coldest part of my frig. Funny, my daughter visited recently, looked in my frig and said, "Why do you have tofu in here?" She knew this was a strange sight! I said, "I'm going to prepare it and eat it!!" She laughed! Not sure she is a tofu fan, but she will eat almost anything and is an outstanding cook/chef type. My son-in-law is too.

    I might try making hummus again. I used dried chick peas and cooked them. Maybe using canned chick peas would be better. It messed up so bad. I had mountains of it to throw out, I decided it wasn't my skill to make edible hummus. I'm not a huge fan of hummus in the first place so that didn't help! But with your instructions and encouragement, I'm willing to try again. Will report back!

    You never truly know where rumors start. And that's what 'eating tofu is unmanly' is, a rumor. Stupid information. I think the companies that sell competing products put false information out there to taint the sales of their product. For instance, the meat companies put out false info about tofu. I really think it's the meat companies making tofu uncool. Of course, you and all the people honestly participating in NBA know that. Ha!

  7. PS. Linda is without a doubt a very special human!


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