Za’atar Bread Cheese Balls by Wafa Shami (Photos and recipes courtesy of Wafa Shami)

Wafa Shami: Za’atar Bread Cheese Balls


This recipe for Za’atar Bread Cheese Balls comes from the kitchen of the Palestinian author and blogger Wafa Shami. Za’atar is a culinary herb or family of herbs. It is also the name of a savory spice mixture that includes the herb along with wild oregano, marjoram or thyme, cumin, coriander, toasted sesame seeds, dried sumac, often salt, as well as other spices. If you’ve never tried this Middle Eastern spice blend, get ready to fall in love. It has a nutty, earthy and tangy flavor. It is delicious on breads, dips, and much more.

For Palestinians, za’atar has historical significance; some consider its presence to be a sign of a Palestinian home. For Palestinian refugees, plants and foods such as za’atar also serve as signifiers of the house, village, and region from which they hailed. “Za’atar is an herb used in many recipes in Palestine. One of the most popular is the dried ground za’atar mixed with spices and sesame and dipped in bread with olive oil, or sprinkled over chicken, beef, lamb, fish, or salads,” says Shami. “The herb is a rich source of important vitamins such as B-complex vitamins, beta carotene, vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamin E, vitamin C and folic acid. It is worth mentioning that studies have shown that za’atar may have great health benefits for  memory and the brain.”

“Spring is the za’atar season, and that is when the fresh za’atar recipes appear. I love these bread balls stuffed with white cheese, they can be made ahead of time and stored in the freezer. They are light, filling, and can be a pleasing side dish for any gathering, or a snack for the kids, my son  really loves them,” she adds. “Za’atar is comfort food and celebrated in Palestine and across the Middle East. For example, for ‘Manakeesh’ (za’atar pizza), combine equal amounts of olive oil and za’atar, and spread on bread and toast or on a pizza crust and bake. Top with cheese if desired. It is perfect for sprinkling on pasta, pizza and other foods.”

Za’atar (Thyme) Vegan Cookies by Wafa Shami (Photos and recipes courtesy of Wafa Shami)

According to the Love & Lemons food blog, once you have za’atar on hand, there are many ways to use it, such as:

*  Stir it into olive oil to make a dip for pita or crusty bread as an easy, flavorful appetizer.

*  Sprinkle it over  hummus, baba ganoush, or white bean dip topped with a drizzle of olive oil. (Don’t forget the fresh veggies or pita for dipping.)

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*  Toss it with roasted vegetables like potatoes, fennel, or cauliflower.

*  Use it to dress up  on grilled vegetable kebabs or grilled zucchini.

*  Sprinkle it over  homemade focaccia before it goes in the oven.

*  Toss it with  quinoa, bulgur, couscous, or rice and olive oil for an easy side dish.

*  Sprinkle it over sliced tomatoes or cucumbers for a fresh side dish or snack.

*  Dust it onto avocado toast.

*  Use it to punch up simple hardboiled eggs or other egg dishes.

*  Toss it with crispy roasted chickpeas for a healthy snack.

Mana’eesh Za’atar by Wafa Shami (Photos and recipes courtesy of Wafa Shami)

Shami adds, “With this recipe, if fresh za’atar leaves are not available, dried ones should work just as well. I store dried za’atar leaves in my refrigerator and keep them throughout the year. If you are using the fresh ones, chop them lightly. And all you need is about 3/4 to 1 cup of the za’atar. As for the type of cheese, I like to use cheese that is lightly salted, what I use here is Nabulsi Arabic cheese, which can be found at any grocery store that sells Middle Eastern foods and spices. Since this cheese is more salty than I’d like, I soak it in water for about an hour to remove some of the salt. Then I chop it into squares.”


5 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups warm water

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons instant yeast

1/2 cup vegetable oil

3/4-1 cup za’atar leaves, either dried or fresh

White cheese, preferable lightly salted, cut in squares


In a large bowl, mix together 2 cups of flour, 2 cups of water, salt, sugar, and yeast. Cover and let it rest for 10 minutes. The mix should rise during this time.

Add the remaining 3 cups of flour and the oil. Knead the dough until you have a consistent dough that you can work with. Cover and let it rest for 20-30 minutes. Add the za’atar to the dough, and mix well to combine.

Take a small piece of dough, place the cheese in the middle, and round altogether. Place on greased baking sheets. Continue with the same process until you’re done with the dough and the cheese. Preheat the oven to 375 F and bake for about 20 minutes.

This recipe makes about 40-42 small cheese balls. They can be stored in resealable plastic freezer bags or freezer containers for up to 2 months.

For this recipe, see:

Also see:

Wafa’s Mana’eesh Za’atar at:

Wafa’s Za’atar (Thyme) Vegan Cookies at:

Wafa Shami was born and raised in Ramallah, Palestine. She moved to the United States to pursue higher education and graduated with a Master’s degree in International Studies. Since moving to the United States, Wafa has maintained her engagement in Middle Eastern issues as a volunteer. After her son was born she was inspired to write children’s storybooks based on her childhood memories. Her stories, Easter in Ramallah and Olive Harvest in Palestine were published in the last few years. Besides being busy raising her son, Wafa, who lives in California, has a passion for cooking and writes a food blog, in which she shares her family’s recipes. Visit her blog at and follow her on social media @palestineinadish for delicious recipes.

Follow Shami on Instagram or Facebook at “Palestine In A Dish,” and watch for the new projects she is currently working on.

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References:,several%20appearances%20in%20the%20Bible),sweetened%20cheeses%2C%20nuts%20and%20dates solutely-have-to-try/ ulture-Reem-Assil-Joudie-Kalla

Copyright (c) 2023 Wafa Shami | All Rights Reserved.



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