Israeli Inspired Tapenade on Paan
Israeli Inspired Tapenade on Paan

Za’atar seasoned tapenade served over toasted naan with mozzarella cheese.

Za'atar Blend Herbs and SpicesA few years ago, when we were just starting this food adventure, I created an olive tapenade recipe. It wasn’t a bad recipe, though I certainly needed to update the photos! It was just very simple. This week I realized how much I have grown in the culinary field when I decided to clear out some of the staples I keep on hand and created a totally new and very different tapenade than I had all those years ago. This version brings in some of the more sophisticated ingredients indigenous to folks in the Middle Eastern world. Specifically the use of preserved lemons and a homemade za’atar blend. What a world of difference it makes.

A couple of notes about this recipe:

  • Leaving the ingredients minced,versus blending, allows you to get different flavors with each bite.
  • Preserved Lemons can be purchased, but are really easy to make. They just need 3 weeks or so to soften.
  • You could use a pre-made za’atar mix, but they usually contain salt and with the olives and preserved lemons in this mix, you really don’t need anymore salt.
  • If you have hyssop, use it! I didn’t (and it’s not very common in the US) so I used a mix of dried mint and thyme. Mint and Sage would be another worthy option, or swap the thyme for lemon thyme.
  • You can substitute a mix of Greek olives as desired, but I would not suggest using canned black olives. It’s not at all the same flavor profile. Though not Middle Eastern, Spanish marabela flavored olives might also be a good swap. (Not that the Spanish cuisine wasn’t heavily influenced by the Moors! ..but that’s history for another time.)
  • Lastly, you can skip toasting the peppercorns and cumin, but it really does bring a different tone to spices when they get toasted right before use.

Israeli Inspired Olive Tapenade

By: Semiserious Chefs
Makes: 3/4 cup of tapenade


  • 1/4 cup minced kalamata olives
  • 1/4 cup minced green olives
  • 1/4 cup oil packed sun-dried tomatoes minced
  • 1 t minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 t minced preserved lemon

Salt-Free Za’atar

  • 1/4 t whole black peppercorns
  • 1/8 t whole cumin seed
  • 1/8 t dried mint
  • 1/8 t thyme
  • 1 1/2 t sumac
  • sesame seeds for finishing


  1. In a small sauce pan, over medium-low heat, toast the whole peppercorns and cumin, shuffling periodically, for a couple of minutes until warm and aromatic.
  2. Using a mortar and pestle, lightly crush the peppercorns and cumin to create a coarse grind. Add the mint and thyme and gently break them down as well.  You don’t want everything to be a powder. This will allow each bite to have bursts of unique flavor. Add the sumac and stir everything together with your finger or a spoon.
  3. Add the minced olives, tomatoes, garlic, and lemon to a bowl and stir in your za’atar blend.
  4. Serve with bread or crackers, or top a salad, pasta, or favorite grain. Sprinkle with sesame seeds to finish.

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