Both sumac and za’atar (hyssop) were biblical spices, the former used to impart a lemony flavor to food, and the latter to season almost anything. During the time of the Macabbees’ revolt in late autumn, and lemony sumac berries had just been harvested, and za’atar grew wild in the hills.
Today, the word za’atar refers to a spice blend of hyssop, salt, sumac and sesame seeds, popular on bread, in salads, and over yogurt cheese. You can find sumac and za’atar in Middle Eastern and Persian markets. This recipe was created by Nadav Granot, chef at the biblical gardens of Neot Kedumim, in Israel.
SUMAC OR ZA’ATAR LATKES
Makes about 8-10 (Serves 4-5)
- ½ cup virgin olive oil
- 1 cup chopped onion (1 medium-large)
- 2 tablespoons crushed garlic
- 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt (slightly less if using za’atar)
- 1 tablespoon prepared za’atar mix or dried crushed sumac
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 2 – 2 ½ tablespoons hot water
- Thick Yogurt or Sour Cream
Pour ¼ cup oil into a frying pan and sauté the onion and garlic till lightly golden, stirring occasionally. Set aside.
In a bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the sumac or za’atar.
Stir in the onion and garlic mixture and beat in the eggs. The batter will be thick and sticky.
Add 2 tablespoons water (or more if necessary) so that the batter is the consistency of pancake batter.
Heat the remaining oil and use a small cup or soup ladle to form 3-4 small latkes each time. Fry on both sides till golden. Serve with a dollop of thick yogurt or sour cream.
Adapted from The Essential Book of Jewish Festival Cooking, by Phyllis Glazer with Miriyam Glazer (Harper-Collins 2004).