Zaatar Lemon Chicken: The power of food memories

Today, September 23rd, is International Zaatar Day.
Zaatar has always been a staple in my pantry. Even when I lived in cities that had none, I managed to make it from scratch.
Zaatar is typically a spice mix made of dried thyme, sumac, sesame, salt and pepper. Although some variations contain coriander, oregano, and/or marjoram.
Thanks to the crunch of the toasted sesame seeds, the vibrancy of the dry herbs, along with the tanginess of the sumac, Zaatar livens any dish it is added to.
When it comes to using Zaatar as an ingredient, I challenge my creativity beyond the conventional uses.
I mix it in bread and cracker dough, use it as filling for puff pastry palmiers (recipe inspired by Almond and Fig) along with feta cheese.
Even my oven fires occasionally get a generous sprinkle of Zaatar to spike the taste.
A drizzle of good quality olive oil mixed with Zaatar makes the best match for a fresh slice of baked bread!
Since COVID-19 rattled our lives, Zaatar has been my most solicited cooking asset in my kitchen. Among its many health benefits, Zaatar is a mood, immune, and energy booster. 
Simply, Zaatar is your best friend in 2020 and beyond!
This recipe for Zaatar Lemon Chicken is the culmination of nostalgia and logic. I concocted the recipe relying solely on my taste memory and common sense.
It feels like yesterday when I was in sitting with my family on a rustic table under a stretched off-white tent, facing the monumental Giza pyramids, enjoying the fresh breeze of a late afternoon. We were mopping up the drippings of this grilled-to-perfection chicken with fresh baked bread, served along a myriad of Egyptian mezzah,
Andrea Restaurant located, back then, in Giza was founded in 1959 by a Greek restaurateur and an Egyptian business partner whose kids and grandkids are currently running the place.
This place serves, hands down, the best grilled chicken I’ve had in Egypt over the course of the 29 years I lived there. If you visit Egypt, don’t skip this amazing food experience and check out the restaurant’s new location here.
If traveling overseas is not a foreseen plan, then try to make this chicken in your own kitchen. It is as easy as cracking an egg.
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For more iconic recipes from my Egyptian kitchen made easy, follow my IG account @cheznermine.

Zaatar Lemon Chicken

Recipe credit to Chez Nermine

Serves 4 people


  • One whole chicken, approx. 700 grams (preferably free range)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup lime lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons Zaatar
  • 1 ½ teaspoon sumac
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon seven spices
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper
  • ½ lemon, thinly sliced
  • 1 whole medium onion
  • Bunch of fresh thyme
  • One lemon, quartered
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • Thinly sliced potatoes, optional


  1.  Marinate the chicken: Mix together the olive oil, lemon, juice, Zaatar, spices, salt and pepper and pour over the chicken. Massage it well, over and under the skin. Place the lemon slices under the skin and fill the chicken cavity with one whole onion, a quartered lemon and fresh thyme. Leave the chicken uncovered in the fridge for at least 4 hours or overnight to dry and absorb the flavors.
  2. Bake the chicken: Preheat the oven to 375°F. Place the marinated chicken over the thinly sliced potatoes. Cover the roasting pan with aluminum foil and place in the oven for 30 minutes. Then uncover the pan, and let it broil for an additional 5-7 minutes until the skin is crispy, the flesh is fully cooked, and the aromas of Zaatar and spices are all over your kitchen.
  3. Serve with a a green salad or with steamed quinoa or bulgur.


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