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Friday, 29 May 2009

Za'atar (Ζατάρ)

The students at MAICh are usually young people of Mediterranean origin (with a sprinkling of Northern Europeans). Most nationalities are well-represented numerically, so each country can form a group within the larger context and organise an ethnic night during the year, in which traditional food from their country is served, along with a presentation of their country's customs, music and dance.

Recently, it was Lebanese night at MAICh. The students prepared the meals themselves, with a bit of help from their mothers, who sent them some food parcels. I wasn't able to attend the soiree, but I was lucky to get some of the leftovers.

greek oregano za'atar lebanese spice mix
Left: Greek oregano being grown as a potted plant; right: home-made za'atar
za'atar lebanese spice mix

Zaatar is a spice mixture made with Origanum syriacum, a very fragrant aromatic herb growing wild in Lebanon, similar (but not quite!) to the Greek oregano; it has a different growth structure, and a slightly different aroma. Great importance is attached to it among the local crops in the Lebanese market due to its regular use in daily cooking. It is grown and harvested, then roasted in a special way with some sumac and sesame seeds. The dry mixture keeps a long time in an airtight container. It is combined with oil and spread over Lebanese flatbread, and then eaten as is, or slightly grilled for a nuttier taste. Apparently, everyone in Lebanon has this at some point every day.

This was given to me by one of my students, prepared by her own mother in Lebanon. We tried it with our regular bread from the local baker's. It made an interesting alternative to our psomi me ladi. If you want to make some za'atar yourself, try Laurie's recipe.

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