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Recipe for Zaatar Meatballs

by Jeanette on November 10, 2010 · 11 Comments
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Za'atar meatballs with Tzatziki Sauce - great appetizer for entertaining

Today, I tried a new spice called zaatar (or za’atar) in a meatball recipe. Meatballs are popular with my kids, and an easy way to introduce new spices to them.  Zaatar, a Middle Eastern spice, is a mixture of sumac (which has a lemony taste), thyme and sesame seeds.

Some mixes include marjoram, oregano, coriander, fennel and cumin. Zaatar is not a strong spice, but it has a nice tang from the sumac.

Traditionally, zaatar is mixed with olive oil and baked on a flat bread called manakeesh bi zaatar.  It is also eaten with labneh (a strained yogurt), bread and olive oil for breakfast. In the Middle East, zaatar is believed to have health advancing properties, including making the mind alert and the body strong.

I found a recipe for meatballs using zaatar on Cara’s Cravings, and made a few adjustments to the meatball recipe, including using gluten-free bread crumbs (ground rice crumbs), minced onion, an egg to bind the mixture, and a heavy dose of zaatar.  I decided to serve the zaatar meatballs with tzatziki sauce, a creamy sauce made from yogurt, cucumbers, dill, garlic and lemon juice.  Kalyn’s Kitchen has a nice recipe for tzatziki if you want to make it yourself.  I happened to have some prepared tzatziki from a local Greek store. 
Za'atar meatballs

Here’s my recipe for Zaatar Meatballs:

Zaatar Meatballs

For a kid-friendly meal, try serving these meatballs taco style in a tortilla, with some mixed baby greens and tzatziki sauce.  The allspice and cinnamon compliment the zaatar nicely.
Printable Recipe

Zaatar Meatball Ingredients:
1 pound ground turkey
1 egg
4 tablespoons gluten-free all purpose crumbs (I used Orgran), or bread crumbs
1/2 medium onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
5 teaspoons zaatar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

mint leaves, for serving
tzatziki sauce, for serving

To make zaatar meatballs, combine all Zaatar Meatball Ingredients and mix gently. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or longer for flavors to meld and to allow meatball mixture to firm up (this makes it easier to form meatballs). 
Wet both hands and make small meatballs, about 1″ in diameter. Heat 1/2 cup of water in a deep saucepan. Gently place meatballs in pan, and cook until water is just evaporated, turning meatballs after a few minutes to color all sides. Heat oil in a skillet. Brown meatballs and cook through.

Skewer zaatar meatballs with mint leaves and serve with tzatziki sauce.

More recipes using Zaatar:
Cafe Liz’s Herbed Yogurt Dip with Chives and Zaatar
Choosey Beggar’s Pomegranate and Za’atar Tofu Kebabs
Morsels and Musings’ Chicken with Sumac,Za’atar and Lemon
A Little Bit Burnt’s Za’atar Spiced Zucchini, Garbanzo and Tomatoes with Whole Wheat Spaghetti

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  1. I am absolutely in love with your blog. I am intrigued by all of the foods you are preparing and their health benefits. Another one that sounds really delicious!

  2. Thanks for your encouraging comments. I love testing out new ingredients and am always amazed at how many I haven't tried before.

  3. Zaatar sounds interesting! I haven't been able to find it yet and intrigued by how sumac tastes. Will keep looking!

  4. If you can't zaatar locally, you can order it from penzeys.com; or if you can find sumac, you can just mix it up at home. Here's a recipe I found for zaatar:

  5. I'm a big fan of sumac, so I love the sound of this!

  6. Thanks Kalyn. I just took a peek at your blog and found your recipe for "cauliflower rice" with fried onions and sumac, and chickpea soup with sumac that look delicious. I'll have to try them.



  7. Hey Jeanette where did you find the spice? I will have to hunt it down and give it a try. Meatball Tacos are a great idea, my son would love them.

  8. I found zaatar at a spice store called Penzeys. They have stores across the country in the U.S. They also sell online at http://www.penzeys.com

    You can also make your own if you can find sumac (if you can't, try substituting some lemon zest). Here's a recipe:

    My kids love tacos too – fun to make their own, and fun to eat!

  9. This is interesting! I would love to try this one. Thanks a lot for sharing.

  10. Hope you have a chance to try zaatar. It's tangy, not a strong spice, so a nice way to introduce a new spice.

  11. I love zaatar but never thought to use it in meatballs. I have to try it:)

    I'm from Egypt and one of our favourite ways to make "kofta" or meatballs is with ground rice instead of breadcrumbs. I find it much tastier this way:)

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