The spice is right: Famed chef Alice Waters shows you how to create new flavors from your pantry

Alice Waters, executive chef and owner of Chez Panisse Restaurant & Café in Berkeley, is often dubbed the mother of California cuisine. She founded the Edible Schoolyard Project and is the recipient of three James Beard Awards.

In her newest cookbook, “My Pantry: Homemade Ingredients That Make Simple Meals Your Own” (Pam Krauss Books, $24.99), she encourages readers to nuance dishes with easy-to-prepare pantry staples. From candied citrus peel to slow-roasted nuts to wine vinegar, she offers advice on practical ways to boost flavors.

The chapter I like most covers the topic of spice mixtures. New Year’s resolutions often focus on healthful eating, and these simple concoctions can make those culinary goals delicious and simple.

Waters says that she sprinkles za’atar, her version of the sesame-spiked spice mix, over crostini, poached eggs or salads, or for her go-to breakfast as a garnish on whole-wheat flatbread spread with hummus. The recipe’s source is her friend Suzanne Drexhage, the owner of Bartavelle in Berkeley. Drexhage uses the blend atop a Persian breakfast (a combination of cheese and yogurt served with fresh herbs and pickles).

She serves a small bowl of her chili-lime salt mixture with platters of radishes and carrots. It’s also delicious dusted over cold mango or watermelon wedges, or over a section of orange as an accompaniment to a glass of mezcal.


Yield: about 2/3 cup

2 tablespoon sumac, see cook’s notes

2 tablespoons dried thyme

1 tablespoon white sesame seeds

5 tablespoons Maldon salt (or another flaky sea salt)

Cook’s notes: The sumac bush, native to the Middle East, produces deep red berries that are dried and ground into a tart powder. It is sold in specialty shops such as Savory Spice Shop in Costa Mesa and Corona del Mar, or at supermarkets with large specialty spice sections.


1. Stir all ingredients to combine well; store in a tightly covered jar. Best used within 2 months.

Source: “My…

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