Sunday, 29 April 2012

Weekend breakfast: Izha and Za'atar

Ever since I was a little girl, lazy Saturday and Sunday mornings have always included a morning spread of Izha and Za'atar with pitta bread.

Izha is a thick black paste (it looks a bit like molten tar or oil) of nigella seeds roasted and ground with sesame seed puree, or something else which makes it more liquid. There are very few places I know of in the world where you can buy it - Palestine or Jordan. Even many locals don't know about it, and I have often had confused looks when I ask friends to bring me back a jar when they go back home to friend once brought me back a big bag of nigella seeds!

Izha needs to be prepared before serving, as straight from the jar it can taste very bitter. Although that doesn't stop my dad from eating a teaspoon of raw izha every day. Apparently there are many health benefits to izha, including strengthening the immune system.

The best way to prepare izha is:

  • Pour a small amount into a bowl (1 - 3 tablespoons depending on the number of people). Add a small amount of boiling water to the mixture and stir in, until the izha absorbs all the water and thickens to look like grey cement. 

  • Add more water little by little to the mixture, all the while stirring until it reaches the consistency of thick custard. The biggest mistake is to add too much water which makes the izha too runny to eat as a dip. If this happens, you will need to add a little more izha to the mixture to thicken it up - it's a judging game and takes practice if you don't get it right the first time.

  • To sweeten, add a teaspoon or two of clear honey. This also makes the izha beautifully glossy and black. Sugar is fine as an alternative if you don't have honey to hand, but make sure this is added before the hot water, as it won't dissolve after and will make the izha grainy.

Za'atar is a blend of dried herbs (including thyme), toasted sesame seeds and salt. It can be eaten by dipping bread in olive oil and then the herb mixture, or mixed with olive oil and spread on dough for baking in the oven ( a form of mana'eesh). It can also be used to season meat, hommus or yoghurt.

Za'atar has become quite trendy recently, and is now commonly sold at places like Waitrose. I would NOT recommend buying it from supermarkets as they sell you a measly amount at a rip-off price. Go to a Middle Eastern shop like Green Valley off Edgware Road instead.

I love Izha and Za'atar. We even named my two late cats growing up after these two amazing dips!



  1. Great article! I have been looking for a recipe for IZHA for a long time. All I can buy here is the whole Nigella Seeds - do you have a recipe of how to make it just starting from the seeds?

    Thank you SO much!

  2. Thank you for your comment! I also find it very hard to buy Izha in the UK...I always get mine sent over from family and friends in Palestine and Jordan!

    You didn't mention where you are from but have you tried looking in Middle Eastern wholesalers / suppliers rather than Arabic supermarkets?

    To be honest I don't know what goes in to making Izha from scratch - whether it is just made from ground nigella seeds or if there are other ingredients...but if I come across a recipe I will be sure to share on the blog!