I am a big fan of dips and spreads. If given the choice between a bag of chips or celery sticks with dip, the latter wins every time. I’ll choose herbed goat cheese over just about anything as a cracker topping or sandwich condiment. For entertaining purposes, a good cheese ball or cheese spread works wonders, in my opinion; this spread, made with a combination of soft goat cheese (chevre) and cream cheese, is my current favorite. The flavors were inspired by a cream cheese at Eltana, the one I get every time even though I really want to try some other flavors; it’s creamy (of course) and salty, with generous pieces of scallion and a subtle hint of za’atar. It goes perfectly with every flavor of bagel and I crave it when it’s not in my refrigerator, which is most of the time. It was time for me to experiment and see if I could make something similar. This lovely cheese spread comes pretty close to the high bar set by Eltana: it echoes the za’atar flavor but is not quite as salty or scallion-y. It’s easy to make and perfect for your holiday entertaining needs.
If you aren’t familiar with za’atar, that’s okay, but I encourage you to seek some out and give it a try. Za’atar is a savory mix that includes crunchy sesame seeds, sometimes salt, and a regionally-determined mix of other herbs and spices including thyme, oregano and marjoram. It is used throughout the Middle East and North Africa and is a great spice blend to have on hand, particularly for winter cooking. I favor the Syrian blend from World Spice, with warm cumin and coriander, tart sumac and abundant, nutty sesame seeds. I am seeing za’atar blends more often in the grocery store, particularly if yours has a well-stocked bulk herb/spice section. In addition to this cheese spread, za’atar can be used to season lamb, pork and chicken and is delicious with spinach and roasted squash and in hummus. Those are my most common uses for the blend, and I’m constantly experimenting to find more.
This za’atar- and scallion-scented cheese spread is so versatile! I serve it with crackers and raw vegetables, particularly bell peppers, carrots, celery and cauliflower, as an appetizer. You can use it as a sandwich filling or condiment; my favorite combination pairs it with rye bread, cucumbers and a tiny bit of red onion. It’s also tasty with thinly-sliced roasted chicken. Try it as a filling for stuffed mushrooms: remove the stems from some small button mushrooms, fill with a bit of cheese spread and bake for 10-15 mins. Delicious! Lastly, you can of course use it on toasted bagels and English muffins. If you’re looking for a quick appetizer, addition to a brunch buffet, or just a good, tasty snack, I hope you will give this spread a try. Then, make sure and let me know how you like to use it! I’d love to hear your ideas.
Cheese Spread with Za’atar and Scallions (makes about 1 1/2 c.)
- 4 oz. cream cheese, softened*
- 5 oz. plain chevre (soft goat cheese), softened*
- 2 scallions, ends trimmed, roughly chopped (reserve some dark green slices for garnish, if you like)
- 2 tsp. Syrian za’atar
- zest of half a lemon
- 1 T. fresh lemon juice
- salt to taste
- crackers, bread, raw vegetables, etc. to serve
In a food processor, pulse to combine the chevre and cream cheese. Add the scallions (reserving some of the dark green pieces for garnish if you want), za’atar, lemon zest and juice. Pulse again to combine. Add salt to taste, keeping in mind that the flavors will marry and develop further as the spread sits; if you’re unsure, wait to add salt until just before using. Transfer to a tightly-covered container and refrigerate at least 4 hours, preferably overnight. When you are ready to use, remove the spread from the refrigerator and allow it to come up to room temperature, or close– it will be easier to spread and tastier in general. Serve as desired, garnished with dark green scallion slices if you reserved them; refrigerate any leftovers for up to a week.
*Soften the cheeses by leaving them out, unopened, at room temperature for several hours or overnight. Also to note, the recipe is forgiving if you have a little more or a little less of either cheese, as long as you stay in the range of 8 – 10 oz. for a combined total.