Spice Bazaar, Istanbul photo by foodaholic.biz

Za’atar – a treasure from Turkish cuisine:

This past beautiful summer, I had the privilege to visit Turkey and indulge my taste buds in this extraordinary cuisine. No doubt, the best way to learn about a culture and it’s lifestyle is through its food. Food, people and warm hospitality is a package that strikes instantly when you sit down to eat for the first time in the country. Istanbul, especially, is a freakin’ foodie paradise. It’s completely astonishing how much good stuff is to be found at even ordinary eateries. From gourmet restaurants to street side vendors to the mounds of teas and spices in the Spice Bazaar, it’s sensory overload everywhere.

I was already familiar with za’atar through a decade of food blogging and also because Turkish cuisine is already quite popular in Pakistan. I’ve even made my own spice blend inspired by my dine out experiences at Turkish restaurants in Lahore. Sitting on the rooftop of our hotel near Taksim Square for our very first lunch, we were mesmerized by the aroma of freshly baked pide, sprinkled generously with za’atar. I decided that very moment that I won’t return without a bagful of this herbilicious goodness.

Za’atar Spice Mix by foodaholic.biz

What Is Za’atar?

When you enter the famous Spice Bazaar, it’s a flood of colors and aromas, crafts and treasures. But I felt, the strong, sharp, rich (yet not hot) aroma of za’atar is the most overpowering and incredible smell that pulls you towards the nearest spice stall. I asked the shopkeeper about the history of this spice blend and he casually dismissed my query as if I had asked the simplest and silliest question possible. therefore, I had to go back to google, after I purchased many boxes, to satisfy my curiosity about Za’atar.

It turned out that za’atar has been around in the Middle East for centuries – nearly as old the hills themselves! The word though refers both to the captivating spice mixture as well as the wild oregano plant which is the base of this mixture. What exactly goes into your za’atar depends on where you are in the Middle East. But to have a general idea, it is a cobination of dried ground oregano, thyme or marjoram, ground sumac, toasted sesame seeds and salt.

Za’atar Baked Fish with sides by foodaholic.biz

Za’atar Baked Fish and Other Ways to Use It:

One of the reasons people rave about za’atar is it’s versatility. It literally goes well with just about annnnything! Sprinkle it on your breakfast eggs, salads, breads, potato wedges or roasted chicken and vegetables – the flavors and aromas will never disappoint you. And, of course, use it with fish! I personally believe that fish and white meat is the perfect vehicle for za’atar. The combination of fragrant earthiness from herbs, umami from the sesame seeds and mild sourness from sumac, makes it perfect match for baked fish.

Za’atar baked fish is really the easiest of dishes with the biggest wow factor that you can make for a week night supper or as a main for any special dinner. All you need to do is marinate the fish pieces with turmeric, lemon juice and a little salt (remember there is salt in za’atar as well) for five minutes. Then mix the za’atar spice blend with a little olive oil and slather it on top of the fish pieces. Leave the rest of work to your oven. Since the fish comes out very flavorful, it goes with any choice of sides – roasted/sautéed vegetables, plain rice, couscous, potato wedges, bread and hummus.

Za’atar Baked Fish by foodaholic.biz

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Za’atar Baked Fish

Maria Nasir
Za'atar Baked Fish is one of the easiest recipes with the biggest flavor, aroma and wow factor. It's the perfect dish for a midweek supper or the main for a festive dinner.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 12 minutes
Total Time 22 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Mediterranean
Servings 2


  • 1/2 kg Sole Fish Fillet or any firm fish
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano coarsely crushed
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme coarsely crushed
  • 1 tablespoon cumin ground or coarsely crushed
  • 1 tablespoon coriander coarsely crushed
  • 1 tablespoon sumac
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds preferably toasted
  • 1 teaspoon salt or to taste divide between fish marinade and za'atar mix
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper or chili flakes optional
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil


  • Preheat oven at 140C with fan for 10 minutes.
  • Lightly grease an oven proof dish or spread a butter paper in it. The dish should be big enough to fit the fish fillet in a single layer.
  • Mix turmeric, lemon juice and half of the salt in a small bowl. Rub this mix on both sides of all the fish fillet. Set aside while you prepare the za'atar mixture.
  • Mix oregano, thyme, cumin, coriander, sesame seeds, sumac and remaining salt in a bowl. For most flavor toast all the whole seeds until fragrant and then coarsely grind. Your Za'atar mix is ready. You can store it in an airtight jar to use later as well.
  • For this za'atar baked fish recipe, add olive oil to the herb and spice mix. Spread it generously on top of the fish fillets.
  • Bake on the middle tray of the oven, uncovered, till the fish is baked to your liking. Usually it takes 10 to 15 minutes. Mine cooked for 12 minutes.
Keyword za’atar, bakaed fish, seafood, Turkish M

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