Oleander, Eucalyptus and Z'atar Pies

As the days go by, the situation in Syria just keeps getting worse and worse.  Visiting my family back home is totally out of the question at this point.  Although my hometown is fairly calm, the bloodshed is at our doorsteps. The government continues to kill, and the opposition…….well who knows who the opposition is anymore!? I won’t talk a lot of politics, but I bring this up because I do reminisce about the summers there.  They were beautiful and I looked forward to them every year. I would spend the summer in Teta's and Nana's kitchens, with Jido where I would hear the most fascinating stories about the Ottomans and the French, with my mom where we would drink Yerba Mate all day long, with my uncle Yasser driving up to the farm house every other day, with my friends eating Shawarma late at night, and alone on the rooftop gazing into the night sky. My favorite part of the day was around noon, when I would literally pick cherries and apricots and eat them while walking from Teta’s house to Nana’s.

It was a 10-minute walk, mostly uphill, but I did it every morning. I would be around half way to Nana’s when I would see the pink Oleander flower shrubs. Nana had planted four of them in front of her house. I remember her telling me that “not only is Oleander a beautiful shrub that grows big, but the goats don’t like to eat it!” Nana and the goats, that would herd in the morning, were not the best of friends. They used to eat her beautiful flowers all the time; well, until she planted the Oleander.


I would spend the entire day at Nana’s, and by sunset head back to Teta's house. Walking back was mainly downhill. Now Teta on the other hand had a 35-foot Eucalyptus tree in her backyard! It was a tree my Dad planted when he was in his teens. My grandpa always talks about how the roots of that tree are probably a kilometer deep! It is one of the most resilient trees as I’ve seen it break in half from snow and recover the year after.

On all those walks, I would always be carrying something with me. Teta would send Nana some fresh pecans and then in return Nana would send Teta a plate of stuffed grape leaves or some kind of dessert. Another day some homemade bread, and another apples, wild berries, stuffed goat intestines, you name it!! My grandmothers loved those exchanges and I was the poor delivery boy who had to walk with 15 pounds of food each way!

My favorite of those swaps was when Nana would send Teta a little bag of Z’atar. That meant that Teta would make her famous pies just the following day. Z’atar is made from ground thyme, toasted sesame seeds, Sumac, oregano and marjoram. Nothing in the world smells as good as Z’atar! Nana would make it from scratch, straight form her backyard and send a little bag to Teta. Teta would then bring out her fire pit oven (Saj) and make the Z’atar pies outdoors on an open flame. The entire neighborhood would smell all kinds of good! Here in this video I try and renact a little of what Teta does 8,000 miles away! I cannot wait until everything returns to normal back home! Peace and love to all my readers.


1 tsp yeast
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sumac
1/2 cup water
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup olive oil
1 small onion
1/2 cup Z'atar mix

- To make the dough, mix the yeast, sugar, salt, water, 1/4 cup olive oil with the flour and allow to sit for an hour.
- Prepare the mixture by grating the small onion and mixing with the Z'atar and 1/4 cup olive oil.
- Add the sumac to the mixture.
- Flatten the dough and smear the mixture over it.
- Place the pie on a flat skillet or pan on low heat for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown.


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