At Sitti, a Lebanese restaurant in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina, every table is greeted with fresh pita and a dish of za’atar-infused olive oil for dipping. Inspired by this practice, bartender Whitney Neal envisioned a cocktail using the savory-sweet herb blend for a fresh take on the classic Mexican highball the Paloma, normally made with tequila and grapefruit soda.
The spice blend often known as za’atar is ubiquitous across Southwest Asia and Northern Africa. It’s commonly a mix of herbs like marjoram or thyme with sumac and toasted sesame seeds—oddly enough, it only sometimes contains its namesake herb za’atar (also known as origanum syriacum or bible hyssop). It also sometimes contains salt, citrus zest and other herbs. There’s no one single way to make the spice blend, and different pre-made mixes will each be distinct. Neal infuses the restaurant’s blend into a simple syrup for a unique cocktail ingredient.
In the Za’atar Paloma, the infused simple syrup is mixed with Patrón silver tequila and fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, rather than the grapefruit soda more commonly associated with the Paloma. Feel free to use whatever brand of silver or blanco tequila you prefer, though.
Once you’ve had your fill of the Za’atar Paloma, you can use the infused simple syrup for other interesting drinks. It can add complexity and depth to something as simple as a Rum Old Fashioned, but you can go even further with it by using it in place of other botanical syrups in Tiki bartending.
1 1/2 ounces Patrón silver tequila
1 ounce grapefruit juice, freshly squeezed
1 ounce za’atar simple syrup*
Garnish: lime wheel
Add the tequila, grapefruit juice and za’atar simple syrup into a shaker with ice and shake until well-chilled.
Strain into a Collins glass over fresh ice.
Garnish with a lime wheel.
*Za’atar simple syrup: Add 2 cups sugar and 2 cups water to a saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add 1/4 cup za’atar while the syrup is hot. Let sit for at least 3 hours. Strain out the solids and discard. The syrup will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 1 month.