Za’atar can refer to several varieties of wild herbs that grow in the Middle East, or to a popular, centuries-old Middle Eastern spice blend that was originally made with the oregano cousin wild za’atar. Recipes for the mixture vary, but most call for dried oregano, thyme, sumac, sesame seeds, and salt.
“It’s kind of like if oregano and curry had an illegitimate child,” says Marta Jean Evans of Longman & Eagle. Challenged by Stephen Andrews of Billy Sunday to create a cocktail with za’atar, Evans says she’d never used the “supersavory” ingredient.
Evans combined the za’atar with honey and water to create a syrup infused with the flavor of the condiment. She decided to use Batavia arrack, an Indonesian spirit distilled from sugarcane and red rice, for its savory qualities—and because, like za’atar, it’s been around for hundreds of years. After she’d settled on one spirit, “I just started smelling bottles behind the bar,” she says, “and the Pimm’s really stood out. It’s a very savory spirit because it’s gin based.” Dating back to the 19th century, Pimm’s is infused with herbs and mixed with other liqueurs (the recipe is a closely guarded secret).
Evans spent a while experimenting with the ratio of lemon juice to honey syrup, adjusting her initial proportions until the lemon no longer masked the honey and za’atar flavors in the cocktail, dubbed While My Za’atar Gently Weeps. At the last minute she added a few drops of orange bitters, which “brought out the spice and added just a tinge more sweetness without completely covering up the honey.”
While My Za’atar Gently Weeps
1 oz Batavia arrack
1 oz Pimm’s No. 1 Cup
.5 oz lemon juice
1 oz za’atar honey syrup*
Six drops angostura orange bitters
Za’atar (for rim)
Rim a small chilled glass with lemon and za’atar. Measure all other ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice, then shake and double strain into the glass.
*Za’atar honey syrup: Toast two tablespoons of za’atar in a saucepan. Add one cup of water and one cup of honey. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, let sit for an hour, then strain.
Evans has challenged Hanna Mutsch of Kuma’s Corner to create a cocktail using miso, a Japanese fermented soybean paste.