I had seen a recipe for spiced pistachios with za’atar seasoning just before we got nine inches of snow. I couldn’t stop thinking about those nuts and I had plenty of time to make them. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any za’atar. I decided to come up with my own seasoning and make it a low-sodium za’atar substitute while I was at it.
Not familiar with za’atar? It’s a Middle Eastern spice blend traditionally made with sumac, thyme, and sesame seeds. I first learned about it a couple of decades ago when I did an international pen pal food exchange. I was living near Baltimore at the time, so I got za’atar and my Lebanese friend received Old Bay.
So, it’s snowing, I don’t have za’atar, and I certainly don’t have sumac in the spice rack. Sumac has a tangy, lemony flavor so I thought lemon pepper would work. I didn’t have that either. I finally settled on good ol’ lemon zest. I always have lemons.
I thought my blend needed some zing so I added cayenne pepper. This is not a traditional ingredient, so feel free to leave it out.
After you make the Spiced Pistachios with Thyme, Sesame, and Lemon, use the remaining low-sodium za’atar to brighten egg dishes, to season chicken, to sprinkle on popcorn, and to perk up potatoes or rice.
Low-Sodium Za'atar Seasoning
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
- 3 tablespoons dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
Lightly toast sesame seeds in a small, dry nonstick skillet over medium heat. Watch them carefully so they don't burn. Remove from heat and cool.
Place sesame seeds, thyme, marjoram, cayenne, and lemon zest into a spice/coffee grinder. Process until finely ground.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Want a more authentic Za'atar seasoning? Use 1 tablespoon ground sumac instead of the lemon zest.
No lemons in the house? Substitute lemon pepper.
Not into spicy foods? Skip the cayenne. It isn't traditional anyway!