There are times when you want to enjoy the process of camp cooking, getting a little more elaborate than usual. Then there are times when you just want to make food quickly (though it still needs to be tasty). This apricot couscous recipe is exactly that, a simple one-pot dish (or one kettle) that you can make in about 15 minutes, but it doesn’t sacrifice flavor thanks to the addition of a tangy spice blend called za’atar.
Za’atar is popular in Middle Eastern cooking—you may have already spotted it on a menu or in a recipe. Za’atar is the name of both an herb and a spice blend made with the herb. The aromatic herb, origanum syriacum, grows wild in the Middle East, and is also referred to as Syrian oregano or Lebanese oregano. The spice blend that’s made with it goes by the same name and it can be used on everything from flatbread to yogurt or fruit and vegetables. But where za’atar truly shines is in dishes that feature grains, like couscous.
While the true za’atar spice blend is made with the specific wild herb and is available in some grocery and specialty food stores, you can make a comparable rendition of it at home with dried thyme and oregano leaves. Cumin, coriander and chili also work well. Make a batch at home and pack it in a small, sealable container to add flavor to all kinds of camping meals. You can even use it to make a savory oatmeal for breakfast.
I add a little more sesame seeds to my blend than usual, because I like the texture they provide. Sumac helps to bring a citrusy flavor to the spice blend. Track it down in the spice section of specialty food stores or order online; I like this salt-cured sumac. The tanginess of the sumac pairs well with the sweetness of the apricots in this dish. Pack a little olive oil in a leak-proof container to drizzle all over the top to finish.
Za’atar Spice Blend Recipe
Adapted from Zaitoun: Recipes from the Palestinian Kitchen by Yasmin Khan
Makes: About ½ cup of za’atar spice mix
- 2 tablespoons dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons dried thyme or marjoram
- 1 tablespoon sumac
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
1. Finely grind the thyme and oregano in a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder.
2. If you have raw sesame seeds and need to toast them, do so in a dry skillet on the stove, shaking or stirring occasionally so that they don’t burn (keep a close eye, they brown quickly). Toast until they have a golden color and let cool.
3. Mix all of the ingredients together and store in an airtight container.
Makes: 2 hearty portions
- ¾ cup couscous
- ½ cup dried apricots, chopped into small pieces
- ¼ cup pumpkin seeds, or any other nut/seed of your choice
- 1 cup water
- About 2 tablespoons za’atar, or more to taste
- Olive oil for serving
1. Mix together all of the dry ingredients except the spice blend. To simplify, you can mix all of the dry ingredients at home and pack the mixture in a sealable bag or container.
2. Place the dry ingredients in a pot. Boil water in a pot or kettle and pour the water over the couscous. If your pot is your bowl, boil the water and then pour the dried mixture into the water and stir.
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Anna Brones is a writer, producer and artist. She is the author of several books including Hello, Bicycle and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Find more of her work at annabrones.com or on Instagram @annabrones.