It’s Grilling Week at Spoonful! To get you geared up for a long, awesome summer of cookouts and BBQs, we’ve got a bunch of great grilling tips & techniques to share. Here, we examine a fantastic condiment, rooted in history but with a modern update, that you definitely need for all your grilled dishes this summer.
When it comes to grilling condiments, we’ll bet your pantry and refrigerator door are stocked with the classics: ketchup, mustard and mayo, to be sure, and maybe some craft label BBQ sauce, sriracha and other hot-sauced based spreads, and savory dried rubs for when you’re feeling fancy. But there’s one condiment that needs to be on your list this summer that will be a total game changer for nearly every item you can imaging throwing on the grill: za’atar.
Za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice blend commonly made with herbs (like thyme, basil, and oregano), sesame seeds, dried sumac, and salt. With culinary roots stretching back to Ancient Egypt, za’atar is practically ubiquitous in many food cultures of the world, but is just entering the mainstream lexicon of most Westerners. One food artisan aiming to change that is Alexander Harik, the Lebanese-American founder of Zesty Z: The Za’atar Company based in Brooklyn, NY.
Since 2016, he’s been packaging za’atar and marketing it to adventurous home cooks; the difference is that instead of a dry spice mix, Zesty Z za’atar is jarred with olive oil, making it a breeze to drizzle on fried eggs, yogurt, avocado toast, or pretty much anything else that benefits from a pop of herbaceous flavor. Zesty Z za’atar is also a rockstar condiment when it comes to grilling; even the humblest of veggies or plainest cuts of meat are transformed with a wee splash of this potent stuff.
In this artisan Q&A, we spoke with Alexander about his growing company, the importance of food to his family, and his favorite ways to use this exciting condiment.
How/when did you first encounter za’atar, and when did you decide that you wanted to create a specialty food product based on it?
I grew up enjoying its awesome flavor and versatility. We had the dry mix in our spice cabinet and a bowl of the Lebanese style za’atar spread on the kitchen table.
The Zesty Z moment hit me when I was at home visiting my parents. I was mentioning how cool it was seeing za’atar in NYC restaurants, food blogs, and national publications as an ingredient. There was a pause in the conversation, and I glanced at the bowl of za’atar spread and then it hit me. If America embraced hummus and thick yogurts over the past 20 years, there was a chance they’d embrace za’atar too!
Can you tell us a bit about the role food played in your family’s life when you were growing up?
A major role! My sisters and I were fortunate to have parents that stressed family time and home cooked meals together. They taught us that food is love.
Furthermore, the Lebanese are very proud when it comes to their cuisine. My mom (also the company’s co-founder), Lorraine, is the inspiration for our brand and za’atar products. Zesty Z is based on her family’s Lebanese Za’atar recipe.
What’s the significance of za’atar in Lebanese cuisine?
Think of it this way: what pasta is to the Italians, as Za’atar is to the Lebanese!
Can you share a bit about the origin and founding of your company? Did you have prior experience in the culinary world?
Zero food experience! I felt uninspired working in finance for eight years. Deep down, I knew entrepreneurship was something I wanted to pursue, and the gears were always turning in my head. Zesty Z was born out of love, hustle, and Google University!
What’s a common reaction when someone tries Zesty Z for the first time?
Whether they know za’atar or not, the reaction is usually: “WOW! And, you never have to refrigerate it even after opening?!”
What’s the advantage of the condiment spread you’ve created versus a dry version of za’atar?
Flavor and convenience! Not all za’atar is equal. We use premium ingredients to deliver a consistent flavor. Zesty Z makes enjoying za’atar convenience so customers can enjoy guilt-free, bold Mediterranean flavor at any meal.
What are some classic, and unexpected ways, that we can use Zesty Z in their everyday cooking?
The classic ways include cheese boards when snacking or entertaining, on avocado toast or with eggs, and drizzled on salads. A customer once marinated her entire Thanksgiving turkey with a few jars!
When it comes to grilling, we tell our customers to grill their meats or veggies with just olive oil, with a bit of salt and pepper, and then generously drizzle Zesty Z all over once off the grill. The other way is to drizzle just before the meat or veggies are done, to make a za’atar crust. You don’t want to leave Zesty Z grilling for too long since the sesame seeds burn quickly.
Are there any other products you’re considering adding to your line up, or any other changes coming up for Zesty Z?
The latest development has been food service. Le Pain Quotidien’s Summer menu across 90 U.S. locations will feature Zesty Z in its seasonal salad. We’ve got new ideas under development and believe Za’atar is the future flavor, so stay tuned!
Zesty Z is offering a special discount just for Spoonful readers: use the offer code “SPOON” in their check out for 10% off online orders, and $5 shipping!
Zesty Turkey Sliders
Makes 12 sliders
Recipe by K. Turro
Total Cooking Time: 35 minutes
Active Cooking Time: 20 minutes
- 1 jar Zesty Z (well mixed)
- 12 mini buns
- 3 pounds ground turkey
- ¼ cup seasoned bread crumbs
- ¼ cup finely diced onion
- 2 egg whites, lightly whisked
- ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 1 tsp salt
- ¼ cup ground pepper
In a large bowl, mix ground turkey, seasoned bread crumbs, onion, egg whites, parsley, garlic, salt, and pepper. Form into 12 patties.
Grill (or cook in skillet) turkey patties until internal temperature is 180 degrees F. Drizzle Zesty Z over each patty and garnish with your choice of lettuce/tomato.
Photos by K. Turro