Living in the Middle East is a dream for a spice lover. It is of course, smack in the middle of traditional spice trails, and the trading hub for all the fragrant and piquant treasures of this world. Baharat, Sumac, Saffron, Cardamom, Oud, Roses, Za’atar. The list goes on. A trip to the spice souk of Dubai is a must for any traveller (not to buy spices – they are cheaper at the hypermarkets) to immerse oneself in the origins of this port. Dubai started as a trading town, and pearls, spices and gold were the objects of desire, and the Souks still bear hints of the traditional Middle East that has been lost everywhere else in this shiny city.
Za’atar is both Arabic for Thyme, and also the name of a spice blend that includes thyme, and usually marjoram, oregano, sesame, salt and sumac. Here, you can find it everywhere – in plastic packets on the supermarket shelves, in hessian sacks at the souks, on flat bread with melted cheese, in croissants, on the table next to the salt. It’s a zingy, herbaceous mix that goes with almost everything – it can be added to a lamb stew, a fish marinade, a breakfast frittata, sprinkled on a pizza, but one of my favourites is simply on pastry, and oven baked for about 10 minutes – it makes a superb finger food, and is wonderful dipped in minted labneh (thick yogurt that tastes a little like tzatziki).
- puff pastry squares
- oil for brushing the pastry
- Preheat the oven to 200ᵒC
- brush the pastry squares with the oil and then sprinkle with za’atar and salt
- cut into strips and stretch and twist (it’s possible to sandwich two together and then twist), then place on baking paper on a tray and cook until golden brown – about 10 minutes.
How easy is that? Best to let them cool before serving. They will keep nicely for about 2 days, but taste best fresh. The za’atar could easily be substituted for any spice mix – for example, thyme, cayenne and paprika, or maybe lemon rind and garlic powder, or even sun-dried tomatoes crushed with pine nuts and Parmesan. The presentation is also up to you – twists, triangles, snail shapes, diamonds – anything you like. Just make up the mix, spread or sprinkle it on and bake!