Serves a Crowd

Sweet Potato Soup with Feta and Za'atar Oil

November 10, 2009
5 Stars
Photo by Alpha Smoot
Author Notes

This is a really simple soup to make, and gently flavored with hints of the Middle East, where I was working until just recently. Za'atar is a spice blend that combines dried hyssop, thyme, and sesame seeds and can be found at Middle Eastern grocers or other specialty stores. I had originally conceived of this as a butternut squash soup, but we had an overload of sweet potatoes in the house and so the recipe was amended, luckily to delicious results. Perfect for an autumnal evening. —Lauren Shockey

Test Kitchen Notes

One of the things we like best about this recipe is how lauren takes a few simple ingredients, adds a couple of exotic touches and manages to produce a dish that's both comforting and thrilling at the same time. The soup itself is silky and hearty, the sweetness of the potatoes tempered by the aromatics; a finishing swirl of zaatar oil (zaatar is a Mediterranean seasoning typically containing sesame seeds, thyme, oregano and salt) and a sprinkling of crumbled feta elevate the soup to sophistication. One cooking note: our soup was a bit thick after we pureed it, but a bit of water brought it to just the right consistency. - A&M —The Editors

  • Serves 6 to 8
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons za'atar (see headnote)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 onion, peeled and diced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 leek, white part only, rinsed thoroughly and diced
  • 5 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" cubes
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/4 cup feta cheese
In This Recipe
  1. In a small pot, combine ¼ cup olive oil and the zaatar. Cook over medium heat until hot, but take care not to burn the zaatar. Set aside for at least one hour to cool and infuse.
  2. In a large pot, heat the butter and remaining olive oil over medium high heat. When the butter has melted, add the onion, carrot, and leek, and cook until softened, about five minutes. Add the sweet potato cubes and sauté for another minute. Add the water, stock, and bay leaf, and bring to a boil. Once the soup begins to boil, lower to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Check to make sure the sweet potatoes are completely soft. If not, continue cooking until they are.
  3. Remove the bay leaf and puree the soup using a regular or immersion blender. Check the seasoning and add the salt (you may need more or less depending on what type of stock you used). Ladle out the soup into individual bowls. Crumble some feta into each bowl, and drizzle each bowl with some of the zaatar oil.

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Lauren Shockey is a New York City-based food writer and author of the cookbook Hangover Helper as well as the culinary memoir Four Kitchens. Previously the restaurant critic at the Village Voice, she has written for such publications as The New York Times, Travel + Leisure and the Wall Street Journal.

31 Reviews

rjkrath January 16, 2021
Very tasty! When tasted by itself, the soup is nothing to write home about but with the feta and za'atar oil, it's delicious. I added pearl couscous for a bit of extra texture.
Ramona L. May 18, 2019
I am not a huge feta cheese fan, suggestions on substitute cheese?
Erin H. November 28, 2017
Being as my grocery store only had giant sweet potatoes, I used about 4.5 pounds worth and the ratio was perfect (I also added an extra carrot.) I wanted a little more flavor, so I added some garam Masala, paprika and a little mixed seasoning from a spice shop. Incredibly hearty and delicious!
Helen80 February 9, 2017
I love this comforting soup. I got zaatar from a farmer market and their website is it taste fantastic with this recipe. thanks for sharing!
Hannah M. June 13, 2014
This is great - like, really great. I've made it a few times now, and I make some mall changes:
1. I add 2 cloves of garlic. I'm incorrigible like that - I'll add garlic to most things.
2. I'm huuuuuuge on spices, so I added some. I understand that not everyone is, but for those who are looking to add a little bit to the flavour profile (not that it needs it), The spices I use (in order of most to least) are: garam masala, ground coriander, cumin, caraway and smoked paprika
DELICIOUS. Thank you for the soup.
Richard January 17, 2014
I enjoyed this soup a lot. Didn't have a leek at hand so I added extra onion and really caramelized it for all the flavor it could offer.
Jojo January 14, 2014
Excellent recipe. I used 5 cups of water rather than 6 to achieve a thick consistency, but not too thick.
cookinalong January 12, 2014
Za'atar oil is not listed as an ingredient. How much is needed and where can it be bought? Same source as za'atar?
Jojo January 14, 2014
She means that you infuse 1/4 cup olive oil with 2 tablespoons of za'atar and let sit for an hour, then you have za'atar oil!
Julie B. October 23, 2013
I love this site! Since this soup sounded fabulous I ran out and bought everything and made it. Much to my surprise, it was simply like too thick sweet potatoes that were pureed. Being an experienced chef, I tried doctoring this up and ended up throwing the entire pot away. Sad.
dona December 18, 2021
@julie B.
quite surprising that an experienced chef could not make this work and had to throw it away?!! thin it, add more bloomed spices, .wait- even with the feta and zaatar oil it was inedible?
vivavo May 20, 2013
This soup is to die for. I ate it for a week straight for lunch. The za'atar oil is my new favorite thing to put on everything. Thanks for the recipe!
Marissa C. February 1, 2013
Yummy !!!!
JuneRoca January 29, 2013
Aside from the zaatar and the feta cheese, there's the yellow thingy on top of the soup that was not mentioned. is that grated lemon zest?
joannajw March 23, 2013
I think that's the zaatar oil mixture with bits of feta that sank beneath the soup so it looks like yellow chunks.
smwest January 25, 2013
This is SO good...I made it with butternut squash. I went to a Mediterranean store and bought sumac and then made my own zaatar. I may burst ;)
I A. October 22, 2012
me thinks that if you rave about this ingredient- zaatar- then you should mention its whereabouts! And the recipe includes 2 tablespoonfuls of zaatar yet there is discussion about zaatar oil? Are these two items meant to be the same thing?
thomas C. July 2, 2013
totally agree, there is no such thing as a Middle East grocery story where I live. None. Nada.
SpicyCook January 24, 2014
You can order it online from Penzey's Spices.
samnotlinda October 4, 2012
This is delicious. The only change I made was to leave a few sweet potato chunks in the soup. Next time I will make twice as much zaatar oil (yuuumm).
chantalemarie October 3, 2012
Za'atar, oil where have you been my whole life?
I love Za'atar anyway, but this is a revelation. Made a leek and porcini ragu this week an d add a bit to the top, really great. Then had a ho-hum cauliflower soup, but zing-- za'atar oil, and it's a new soup. Can't wait to try it with this gorgeous Kuri squash that has this soup's name written all over it. Thanks for the inspiration!
Shalala September 29, 2012
This is the epitome of a dish that is super simple and straightforward to make, but exudes such thought and elegance that it seems like it should have taken hours to make. My husband is not a fan of feta, and he absolutely loved it in this dish. It is a really smart, crowd-pleasing dish and we loved it.
LDeuben September 7, 2012
So, so good! This one has become a regular at our table. The potato soup base recipe is good on it's own but then when you add the zaatar and feta - it is totally over the top delicious!
epicureanodyssey November 21, 2010
Wow, this is right down my alley!! It's going to my women's poker group tomorrow night.
Mediterraneanista November 9, 2010
Your soup is delicious, and I especially like the zaatar and the feta additions. My husband made it for lunch the other day, a nice surprise that I tell about here:

Thank you!