Sunday, August 26, 2012

Za'atar Tofu

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There is an amazing tiny Middle Eastern market near where I work. It has tons of spices, fresh pita bread, hard-to-find canned items and multiple barrels of fresh olives to choose from. I stepped in quickly the other day to pick up some raw tahini and came across a spice mix called za'atar, which I immediately picked up to inspect further. As I gave it a good sniff, my initial thought was that it was for making tea, until I heard a voice from behind me say, "That's good! You can mix it with oil and put in on bread," followed by a friendly greeting from the shop's owner. He went on to tell me more about its different uses, and I became intrigued by the spice mix, and wondered why I hadn't heard about it before. I bought the large bag, along with fresh raw tahini, and a handful of olives before chatting a bit more with the shopkeeper, and thanked him for his help.

As soon as I left the shop, I got the idea to use it on tofu instead of bread, and it turned out to be a good one. I mixed equal parts oil to za'atar spice mix and rubbed it on some pressed tofu. I added in some roasted garlic, fresh mushrooms, onion and tomato to balance it all out, and made a little tahini sauce on the side. It was fragrant, beautiful, delicious and different.

One block of tofu, pressed well
1/4 cup za'atar
1/4 cup olive oil
one head of garlic
2 TB olive oil
small red onion, sliced into rings
6-8 bella mushrooms, quartered
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 TB raw tahini
4 TB water
1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
2 TB chopped fresh parsley
fresh cracked pepper

Press your block of tofu very well. Mix the za'atar with the oil and rub it into the tofu. Place it into a glass pyrex dish and place into the refrigerator to marinate for at least two hours or overnight.

Preheat your oven to 375. Slice off the top of a whole head of garlic and place into a small glass pyrex dish. Drizzle with the 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then cover the dish with aluminum foil. Roast for about 30 minutes, then flip the entire head over, spooning the olive oil over the top. Then roast for 15 minutes more, uncovered. Let it cool completely before separating the bulbs from the papery skins.

Heat a little oil in a small cast iron pan over medium-low heat. Place the sliced onion into the pan and allow it to soften and slightly brown for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add in the mushrooms and let cook for about 10 minutes.

While your vegetables are cooking, heat up another skillet over medium heat. Place the tofu into the pan and cook for a few minutes on each side. (Grilling or baking should work well, too.)

Return to your cast iron skillet. Toss in the tomatoes and soften for just a few minutes.

Make your tahini sauce by whisking together the tahini, water and apple cider vinegar. Set aside.

Toss your tofu, garlic and vegetables together. Drizzle any leftover za'atar/oil mixture over the top. Serve with the fresh chopped parsley, cracked pepper and tahini.


  1. What a great idea! I made a berbere mix last night and used up the last of my paprika and then saw how much sumac I have in the pantry as well - making a za'atar mix would be a great way to use that. Very inventive and gorgeous, as always.
    Why do you use raw tahini rather than roasted?

    1. Thank you! I prefer raw tahini over roasted simply because I like the taste better, but a tasty tahini sauce can certainly be made from either!

  2. I've never heard of this spice mix, but I shall look out for it, you make it sound so tasty! I just fancy some spiced tofu now, and it's not dinner time yet:)

  3. wow this looks amazing! and that store sounds great! i loooove the kitty photo too, my cat loves to help me :-P

  4. I have to echo the person before me by saying, what a great idea! I love zahtar-- I just discovered it about a year ago by this fantastic middle eastern market in my town. I've only eaten it with pita and olive oil, but I'm always looking for new ways to try tofu... definitely trying it soon! Thanks.

  5. This looks amazing! I love za'atar but never would've thought to put it on tofu. Genius! And your cat is totally adorable! :-)

    1. Thanks Kristy! Nimrod usually ignores us when we set up a shot, but she was totally into this one for some reason. Maybe she thought za'atar was catnip! : P

  6. a- i love za'atar. b- i love your cat waiting to pounce on that delicious tofu:) my dog usually stays around when i take pictures too, coz the food is usually set up in very accessible places:) like the floor

  7. Such a good idea! I am new to your blog (this is only my third post) and I feel compelled to comment on each one, if only because your recipes are so divine and your photos so lovely. That shot of your kitty looking down at the skillet is so precious. (I am a crazy cat lady. :)) Thanks for giving me something wonderful to look at on a lazy Labor Day morning - when I'm stuck inside with a cold. :(

    I think I've only had za'atar a handful of times and it was years ago - and just the typical bread/oil/dipping situation. I tend to avoid it because it has sumac and I've heard that if you're allergic to poison oak/ivy/sumac you shouldn't ingest it. I'm super duper allergic and don't want to test my luck! :(

    1. Thank you for your incredibly kind feedback, adrienne! I hope you feel better soon -- I am also getting over a 24-hour cold-like thing, kind of crappy for my day off!

    2. I'm just thrilled I found your site. You are a new favorite, for sure!

  8. how long do you marinade the tofu for this recipe?

    1. Anywhere from two hours to overnight. I just updated the recipe to include this. I hope you enjoy it!


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