My love of travel has led me to many locales, most recently my own kitchen. If that sounds silly hear me out. There are few things as satisfying for a home cook with a deep love for travel as discovering – or rediscovering – flavors that evoke sweet memories. My aim in the kitchen is rarely to recreate a recipe with exactness, but rather to recreate a flavor profile. I want the most amazing pastizzi in Malta to stay put on the streets of Valletta, but if I can achieve even the slightest hint of that flaky, buttery crust with warm ricotta in my own kitchen, well, that’s a win in my eyes.
That’s why I absolutely adore this Za’atar Carrot and Quinoa Pilaf. It vividly reminds me of my early twenties when I was living abroad and learning to cook in a teeny, tiny kitchen thousands of miles from home. It’s where I fell in love with the vibrant flavors of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. An international community of foodies and restaurateurs serving their native cuisines in the expatriate enclave where I lived provided an amazing opportunity: explore food far and wide without venturing outside of the neighborhood.
Admittedly, the secret to the flavors in this quinoa pilaf don’t come from anything I created, but rather from the Zaatar & EVOO small-batch spread from Little Village Artisan Goods. The Tampa, Florida-based company has a beautiful business philosophy that supports small farmers, artisans and herbalists. As you’ll read in my recent review, Little Village products are derived from wild-harvested ingredients that are handcrafted in small batches in Lebanon.
The same curiosity that led me to explore cuisines far outside of my comfort zone 15 years ago continues to manifest in my North Georgia kitchen. While I’d love for you to purchase authentic za’atar from Little Village, I’ve also provided directions for creating a similar flavor profile for you to try in your own kitchen.
What is Za’atar?
Za’atar is a blend of spices originating in the Middle East. As sure as there are countless versions of Cajun spice and dry rub here in the South, the same is true of za’atar. Cumin, sesame seeds, thyme, oregano and sumac are commonly used in za’atar spice. (Curious about sumac? It’s derived from the sumac shrub, which grows wild in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions and has a tangy flavor that I’ve also seen referred to as sour, woody and fruity.)
In za’atar spice mix, the earthy flavors of the sumac, the nutty elements of sesame and herbs like thyme or oregano come together for a vibrant burst of flavor. Use za’atar over your eggs, fish, dips like hummus or baba ghanoush, or even as a rub on grilled chicken or vegetables. The possibilities are endless, so give it a try.
How to Make Za’atar Carrot and Quinoa Pilaf
This za’atar quinoa pilaf recipe is easy to make and calls for only a few simple and nutritious ingredients. Cooking with plant-based whole foods like quinoa and carrots is one of the best things we can do for our health. This quinoa pilaf recipe fits the bill for a heart-healthy dish with plants at the center. Let’s dive in.
Prepare the za’atar spice blend. If you’re using Little Village’s Zaatar & EVOO, you’re all set. If you’re making your own mix, you’ll be using cumin seeds, sesame seeds, sumac, sea salt, fresh oregano, fresh thyme and extra-virgin olive oil. Detailed directions are in the Notes section toward the end of this article.
Prepare the carrots and quinoa. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Rinse and drain the quinoa until the water runs clear, scrub your carrots clean or grate them. Spread the carrots evenly over a sheet pan or casserole dish and drizzle with a high-quality, extra-virgin olive oil. Sprinkle ground coriander and sea salt over the carrots.
Get cooking. Roast the carrots until browned and blistered on the outside and soft on the inside, about 35 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, heat the extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add the quinoa and toast for about 5 minutes. Listen for the little pops. Add 2 cups of water to the quinoa and bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, fluff the quinoa with a fork and set aside.
Serve and enjoy! When your carrots are fork-tender and have a good roast on the outside, place them on the bed of quinoa pilaf and garnish with feta cheese, pepitas or roasted pumpkin seeds (optional), sea salt and fresh cracked pepper. Drizzle with Little Village Zaatar & EVOO or top with your homemade za’atar spice blend and drizzle with additional extra-virgin olive oil, if desired.
You’ll feed 4-6 of your favorite people if you serve this za’atar quinoa pilaf recipe as a side dish. Make it a main course by adding a protein of your choice and slightly larger servings of the quinoa pilaf for 2-3 hearty, meal-sized servings.
- What proteins pair well with Za’atar Carrot and Quinoa Pilaf? Wonderful plant-based proteins include pine nuts and chickpeas. When it’s time to fluff the quinoa with a fork, add 2 cups of chickpeas and 1/4 cup pine nuts, gently mix and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. My husband, David, and I have also enjoyed this quinoa pilaf recipe with simple white fish, such as halibut, thrown in the air fryer while the quinoa pilaf cooks. Oven-baked chicken thighs would be great as well.
- Can I buy pre-mixed za’atar spice mix? Sure. If you can’t find it at your local grocer or international market, check out Little Village’s online marketplace or your preferred online retailer.
- Do I have to use fresh herbs in my za’atar spice blend? No, you don’t have to use fresh herbs, but I highly recommend it. Dried thyme and oregano are just fine. A good rule of thumb is the 3-to-1 ratio for fresh to dried herbs, respectively.
- What should I serve with Za’atar Carrot and Quinoa Pilaf? Warm pita bread or a simple salad with tomato, cucumber and mixed greens with balsamic vinegar are great options.
- How can I use za’atar in recipes? Za’atar is a versatile spice that can be used over eggs, meat or vegetables. You can also use it as a seasoning for fish, hummus or cheese on a mezze platter.
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, such as Little Village Premium EVOO
- 1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
- 2 cups water
- 1 pound carrots
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
- Pepita seeds, for garnish (optional)
- 2–3 tablespoons Little Village Zaatar & EVOO
*See Notes for homemade za’atar spice blend.
- If you’re using Little Village’s Zaatar & EVOO, you’re all set – skip to step 2. If you’re making your own mix, see the Notes section below. You’ll be using cumin seeds, sesame seeds, sea salt, sumac, fresh oregano, fresh thyme and extra-virgin olive oil.
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Rinse and drain the quinoa until the water runs clear, scrub your carrots clean or grate them. Spread the carrots evenly over a sheet pan or casserole dish and drizzle with a high-quality, extra-virgin olive oil. Sprinkle ground coriander and sea salt over the carrots.
- Roast the carrots until browned and blistered on the outside and soft on the inside, about 35 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the quinoa and toast for about 5 minutes. Add 2 cups of water and bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, fluff quinoa with a fork and set aside.
- When your carrots are fork-tender and have a good roast on the outside, place them on the bed of quinoa pilaf and garnish with feta cheese, pepitas (optional) and sea salt and fresh cracked pepper. Drizzle the quinoa pilaf with Little Village Zaatar & EVOO mix or top with your homemade za’atar spice blend. Drizzle with additional extra-virgin olive oil, if desired.
- To make your own za’atar spice blend you will combine:
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 tablespoons cumin seeds (seeds, not ground cumin)
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 2 tablespoons sumac
- 3 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped, or 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 3 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped, or 1 tablespoon dried thyme
- 1/4 cup high-quality extra-virgin olive oil
- Prep Time: 15 mins.
- Cook Time: 35 mins.
- Category: Sides
- Method: Stovetop, Oven
- Cuisine: Mediterranean Inspired
- Diet: Vegetarian
Keywords: za’atar, za’atar spice, Little Village Artisan Goods, za’atar recipe, quinoa pilaf