Photos and Words by Anna Brones
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. This recipe is exactly that, a simple one-pot dish (or one pot, one kettle) that you can make in about 15 minutes, but doesn’t sacrifice flavor, thanks to the addition of the tangy spice blend 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 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 from it goes by the same name, and it can be used on everything from flatbread, to yogurt, to fruit, to vegetables.
Za’atar is a versatile spice blend that can be used in the camp kitchen to bring flavor to dishes, particularly those made with grains.
While the true za’atar spice blend is made with the wild herb, 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 couscous dish. Pack a little olive oil packed with you to drizzle all over the top.
Za’atar Spice Blend
Adapted from Zaitoun: Recipes from the Palestinian Kitchen by Yasmin Khan
Makes: About ½ cup of za’atar
2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons dried thyme or marjoram
1 tablespoon sumac
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
1 teaspoon sea salt
Finely grind the thyme and oregano in a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder. 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. Toast until they have a golden color and let cool. 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
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.
Place the dry ingredients in a pot. Boil water in a kettle and pour the water over the couscous. If you only have one pot, boil the water, then pour the dried mixture into the water and stir.
Cover and let sit for about 10 minutes. Once the couscous has absorbed all the water, fluff with a fork. Serve into bowls, top with za’atar and lots of olive oil.
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.