Hit your semi-specialty "local" national grocer (Whole Foods, we're talking about you) these days, and you can pretty much declare your local condiment duties done. But if we step away from the fancy Artisinal LA packaging and get straight down to tasting, finding top notch, locally sourced pantry ingredients involves digging in the aisles of your tiny neighborhood market. Which is exactly where we find our best hidden dinner gems, including these "Zeta" lavash chips from Araz-Z. The owner's name is Ara Zeithlian; he has been operating his Pico Rivera lavash company, Breadmasters, since the 1990s.
Sure, turning those leftover batches into baked crackers is a perfectly logical business proposition, but it's also a pretty tasty one. The best of Zeithlian's baked "chips" -- there are also ranch and flax versions -- are those spiced with za'atar, a Middle Eastern dried spice mix in various forms that typically includes oregano, sumac, thyme, sesame seeds and salt.
That spice mix is half the secret, if for no other reason than za'atar is one of the few pre-mixed spice blends we love (it is fantastically versatile). And yes, we know we can, and have, made our own za'atar oven-baked chips: Brush leftover broken lavash with olive oil, sprinkle with za'atar, and bake at 400 degrees for a few minutes.
But these Zeta chips are pretty hard to justify another summer night of oven heat when we can find them at our local Persian market for less than $4. They're great on their own, and because the chips have just a hint of salt, they also work pretty brilliantly with a salty feta and sliced summer tomatoes.
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Look closely, and you'll notice the crackers are modernist art in cracker form, if you will, each a startlingly different shade of brown (from lightly toasted to almost black), as well as a study in green from the varying amounts of za'atar sprinkled on top. Add that each is shaped dramatically differently, and these crackers are an edible reminder:
Despite what Ritz and friends would like us to think, cracker diversity is what the good, semi-homemade pantry life is all about.
Zeta Chips, Za'atar flavor, about $4 at local Middle Eastern and other specialty markets including Star Market: 12146 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 820-6064 (Forewarning: If like this Yelp reviewer who referenced our green almond article, you will be irritated if they hang up the phone when you call and ask about za'atar or green almonds, this is probably not the tiny, non-Ritz crackers sort of place for you).