Zaatar Lemon Chicken: The power of taste memory

Today September 23rd is Zaatar International Day.
Zaatar has 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 contains coriander, oregano, and/or marjoram.
The crunch of the toasted sesame, the vibrancy of the dry herb along with the tanginess of the sumac, Zaatar enlivens any dish it is added to.
When it comes to using Zaatar as an ingredient, I challenge my creativity beyond the conventional use of the Middle Eastern staple.
 I mix it in bread and crackers dough, use it as filling for puff pastry palmiers recipe inspired by Almond and Fig) along with feta cheese.
Even my oven fires get  occasionally a generous sprinkle of Zaatar to spike the taste. And a drizzle of good quality of olive oil mixed with Zaatar makes a comfort, hearty dip for a freshly slice of baked loaf of bread!
Since Covid-19 rattled our life and Zaatar has been my most solicited cooking asset in Chez Nermine’s kitchen.  Among its is many health benefits, Zaatar is a mood, immune, and energy booster. 
Simply, Zaatar is you best friend in 2020 and onward.
This recipe of 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 parents and siblings on this rectangular rustic table under a stretched off-white tent, facing the monumental Giza pyramids, enjoying the fresh breeze of a late afternoon, while mopping with the freshly baked bread the dripping of this grilled-to-perfection chicken, 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.
Hands down, this place serves the best grilled chicken I had in Egypt over the course of 29 years I lived there. If you visit Egypt, don’t skip this amazing food experience and check the restaurant new location here.
If traveling overseas is not a foreseen plans, then try to make this chicken in your own kitchen. It is an easy as make a cup of tea.
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Zaatar Lemon Chicken

Recipe credit to Chez Nermine

Serves 4 people


  • one whole chicken, approx. 700 grams (preferably range free)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup lime lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons Zaatar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon  sumac
  • 1/2 cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon seven spices
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 lemon, thinely sliced
  • 1 whole medium onion
  • bunch of fresh thyme
  • one lemon quartered
  • 4 cloves of 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, quartered lemon and fresh thyme. Leave the chicken uncovered in the fridge for 4 hours at least or over night to dry and absorb the flavors.
  2. Bake the chicken. Preheat the oven to 375° Place the marinated chicken over the thinly sliced potatoes, cover the roasting pan with aluminums foil and place in the oven for 30 first. Uncover the pan, and let it broil for an additional 5- 7 minutes until the skin is all 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 some steamed quinoa.


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