Photo by Stacey Ballis

By which I mean ditch the cinnamon and use za'atar

Stacey Ballis
September 06, 2018

Toast is clearly having its moment in the sun. From the endlessly Instagrammable avocado toast to restaurants serving $15 slices, we’ve all gone toast crazy, and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve always loved toast. I love toast on artisanal slices and with plasticy grocery store bread. I love slightly sad room service toast that is always cold and a bit weirdly chewy, and diner toast slicked with pre-melted butter, I like a crust that is so thick it fights my teeth, and toast points with no crusts at all.

I have a piece of toast every morning for breakfast, and while I never really get tired of my basic slice spread with salted butter or the occasional schmear of jam, when it comes to comfort, cinnamon toast was always my go-to. But while the nursery-sweet flavor still pleases, my adult palate sometimes craves a bit more. So, while reorganizing the spice rack earlier this week, I was reminded that I have some amazing blends on the shelf. When I spotted the za’atar, the lightbulb went on.

I love za’atar almost as much as I love toast. This Middle Eastern spice mix is a hero of my cupboard, an herby blend of dried hyssop, thyme, oregano, salt and sesame seeds, sometimes with a bit of sumac. A sprinkle on store-bought hummus makes it feel homemade. A dash on steamed vegetables perks them up immeasurably, it works with lamb or beef or chicken or pork, it is a truly magical blend.

And on toast, it's insanely delicious. At first, I tried just topping pre-toasted buttered bread with the za’atar, but then I wondered what would happen if I made it the way I make my cinnamon toast, by blending it into the butter and smearing it on the bread and then toasting, so that it all bakes into the bread for a deeper flavor. Much like blooming spices in oil before cooking with them, by toasting the mix right on your bread, you get all of the fragrant intensity released, which is a pretty amazing way to start the day.

To keep things simple, per piece of toast I use approximately ½ tablespoon of soft, salted butter mixed with ½ teaspoon of za’atar, mixed well and spread on the bread, and toasted to your preferred level of doneness. I like a good dark toast myself but do it the way you like it. Want a bit of heat? A pinch of red pepper flakes are great on this. It is a terrific base for an egg cooked any which way, or a topping of crumbled goat or feta cheese if you need some protein. Sliced tomatoes, spiralized zucchini, or yes, even avocado are all wonderful additions if you want to turn this into a light lunch, and if you add some chicken, turkey or flaked tuna, you will never want another sandwich.

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