Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Word of the day: zaatar

The word of the day, or of my day, is zaatar, or za’atar. Cue the Oxford English Dictionary:

1. Originally in the Middle East: any of a number of aromatic culinary herbs. The precise herb referred to is variously identified as thyme, oregano, marjoram, hyssop, or savory.

2. In Middle Eastern cuisine: a condiment made from any of these herbs (esp. thyme) singly or in combination, with dried sumac, toasted sesame seeds and salt.
The British pronunciation: /ˈzaːtaː/. The American pronunciation: /ˈzaˌtar/.

The etymology:
Arabic saʿtar, ṣaʿtar, zaʿtar wild thyme, also a condiment made from this herb or similar herbs (see definition), probably < Syriac ṣatrā' (Aramaic ṣatrā'; > post-biblical Hebrew ṣatrāh savory, in modern Hebrew also satureia, thymbra). Compare Turkish zatar (probably < Arabic; the indigenous Turkish word for ‘thyme’ is kekik).
Got all that? No matter. If you’ve ever had hummus with a dark sprinkle of seasoning atop, you’ve tasted zaatar, or some version of zaatar. As a Wikipedia article explains, zaatar is a various thing. From what I’ve tasted, I’d describe the flavor as light and savory.

I looked into zaatar after a great lunch of falafel, salad, and zaatar-seasoned fries at Terre Haute’s Saratoga Restaurant. And now our household now holds a container of Sadaf Mix Green Zaatar: thyme leaves, oregano leaves, sesame seeds, salt, soy oil, sumac. The Saratoga no doubt makes it own.

[The ː symbol in /ˈzaːtaː/ marks extra-long sounds.]

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