While I am fearless when experimenting with flour, sugar, butter and vanilla, spices scare me. Amchur powder, nigella seed, aleppo pepper, grains of paradise — whatever are these for?  Contributing to my nervousness is the fact that most of my forays with fennel and five spice have ended badly.

And yet, despite these fears, I was inspired. Exploring the Summit Spice and Tea Shop in Anchorage, I was astounded by all the different colors and textures. Herbs and spices, solos and blends — teaspoon adventures from places only National Geographic has ever heard of. How could anyone fail to be inspired by such treasures?

Tonight’s teaspoon adventure is to North Africa and the Middle East, courtesy of an herb blend called za’atar.  Za’atar can refer to a single herb from the oregano, basil, thyme, and savory families — or to a blend of herbs and spices.  The Summit Spice and Tea za’atar blends white sesame seed, ground sumac, marjoram, and thyme. I used it to make a marinade for a lovely bit of steak.

Ingredients:

1 small boneless ribeye steak
2 tbs olive oil
1 tbs high quality balsamic vinegar
1 tbs za’atar herb blend

How I made it:

Combine the olive oil, vinegar, and herbs.  Place the steak in a ziploc bag and pour the marinade into the bag.  Zip it up and then work the steak in the bag until it is fully covered by marinade.  Place the bag in the refrigerator and let sit for an hour, turning over half way through.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Place the steak on a broiler pan (non-stick or sprayed with olive oil) and cook for about 45 minutes, turning over once at 30 minutes or so.  Cook to desired doneness.  Serve with roasted potatoes.

How it turned out:

The za’atar gave the meat a bright, lemony aroma out of the oven. The steak was tender and juicy, with a complex taste.  Oregano, butter, lemon all at once.  Which is funny, since the recipe didn’t include any of those.

It was good, but not superb. I think next time I’ll try it with salmon.

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