Sweet Zaa'tar and my Beloved Teta
For all Palestinians za'atar is the most essential breakfast ingredient. A shallow bowl of zaatar and a bowl of olive oil often placed in a permanent spot in every kitchen. Growing up we often took zeit and za'atar pita sandwiches to school the olive oil turns green and often stained the paper towel it’s wrapped in it. I can't talk about za'atar without giving tribute to my teta (grandmother), her love for this green herb is stained like a mark on her hands from the years of plucking, and mixing the herb. Today I am using the herb all on its own making one of my tetas favorite recipes pictured above. Delicious za'atar akras or bites that combine the beloved za'atar herb, honey, olive oil and memories of tetas house, her little kitchen stool and her stained za'atar hands.
The name “za’atar” in Arabic زعتر is the actual herb that’s in the wild thyme family. Za'atar is combined in this incredible aromatic blend that combines both the za'atar herb, toasted sesame seeds, and sumac. The blend incorporates various herby flavors in a pungent, olive green combination that is super delicious.
Long before za'atar became one of the most recognized and popular blends. It’s roots for me started at a super young age in my tetas veranda where in early spring it turned into a za'atar factory.
Woodsy za'atar stems are piled high awaiting the whole family to pluck the leaves from the woodsy stems. Then the leaves are then left out to dry. A process that took my grandmother days and stained her fingers for weeks. But the herby aroma was incredible and filled the house for days.
As for me today, za'atar is not only the flavor of my childhood in Palestine but a symbol to our existence and culinary heritage. As I visit Palestine in the summer time my grandmother piles my suitcase with bags of za'atar clearly marked with my name. It’s the memory that I bring from home. The aroma of the za'atar lingers in the suitcase and on my clothes for months after.
Za’atar and olive oil can evoke my senses and emotions. And when paired together in this pillowy dough, they have the power to take me to tetas house.
Tetas Sweet Akras Za'atar with Honey
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Total time including dough rising: 2 hours
Makes about 30 za'atar bites
2 cups AP flour
1/2 milk (not skim)
1 tsp yeast
1/4 cup honey
2 packed cups fresh Za’atar leaves you can also use dried Za’atar leaves or Greek oregano chopped (since the za'atar herb is so hard to find around here)
1/4 cup olive oil
Pinch of salt
In your standing mixer combine salt, flour and mix to combine.
Heat the milk until warm, add the yeast and honey and wait until mixture is bubbly and foamy about 5-10 min.
Add the yeast mixture to the flour and mix until slightly combined then and add the olive oil until dough comes together into a ball. Add in the chopped Za’atar leaves and gently mix combine. Don’t over mix so you don’t bruise the Za’atar leaves.
Add a drop of olive oil to the dough surface and smooth it out.
Cover the dough with a damp towel and let it rise in a warm place until dough doubles in size. About an hour or until it doubles in size as this might vary depending on your homes temperature.
In the meantime, Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
On a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough to about 1/2 inch thickness
Using a cookie or a biscuit cutter about 2 inches in size and cut out circles.
Re-roll the leftover dough until it’s all done you should have about 30 cookies or akras.
Bake for 15 - 20 minutes until the dough is cooked through. The smell of Zeit (olive oil), Zaa'tar and honey will fill your heart and home with the most delicious aroma.