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Dining Out:

Zaatar has a flair for good spice

June 06, 2009|By Tom Grove

As I approached the entrance to the Zaatar Factory in Burbank, I noticed this flier posted on the glass door: The question on everyone’s mind is, “What in the world is Zaatar?”

Zaatar is a Middle Eastern spice blend generally prepared using ground dried thyme, oregano and marjoram (an herb with a sweet pine and citrus flavor) mixed with toasted sesame seeds and salt.

Now you may find yourself asking, “What’s sooooo special about this so-called Zaatar?”

Zaatar is the “BAM!” to Middle Eastern cooking. Because Zaatar is such a versatile spice blend, it is used on meats, veggies, rice and breads. It can also be mixed with olive oil to make a spread called Zaatar-Wu-Zayt as a dip for sesame bread sticks known as Ka’ak. Zaatar can also be sprinkled on Labneh (yogurt that has been drained until it becomes a tangy, creamy cheese).

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One of the most common dishes prepared using Zaatar is Manaeesh (Zaatar spread on pita bread).

In Lebanon, there is a belief that Zaatar makes the mind alert and the body strong. For this reason, children are encouraged to eat Zaatar before an exam. Back home getting Manaeesh meant you had to wake up early and go down to the local “Fer’rn” (oven) for a fresh batch.

I had been wondering what a Zaatar was the entire drive to the bakery. I was mistakenly convinced it was a Middle Eastern lute (which is actually a sitar). Upon entering the “Fer’rn,” the first thing I noticed was how small it is inside; in fact there’s no seating whatsoever. It is intended that you get everything to go. The second thing I noticed was how clean it was inside. The place was spotless.

The Zaatar Factory is family owned and operated, and the employees are very friendly. Every recipe they use has been passed down for many generations. You can’t get any more authentic than that. The Zaatar Factory uses only the freshest ingredients, and everything is baked (never fried) daily.

I was very impressed as I gazed over the baked goods on display. The various Burek such as Soumjouk Burek (Lebanese sausage) ($3), spicy cheese Burek ($3), spinach and cheese Burek ($1.50), and the potato Burek ($2) looked gorgeous. I was told that Burek is a term used for almost anything baked inside bread, very much like Hot Pockets. They were baked to a flawless golden brown, and I was surprised to find how fluffy they looked. I was having trouble deciding which items I should purchase, so because the prices were extremely reasonable, I decided to get one of each.

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