Spices are something that grants the food their very character and tell you the story of its origin. Hence, if you are looking forward to recreating some middle-eastern magic at your home, looking for middle-eastern spices can be tricky.
The colourful Middle Eastern culture will conjure up images of gorgeous handwoven rugs, majestic domes that rise to the sky and nomadic Bedouins. But underneath it is rich cuisines made using exotic Middle Eastern spice blends. Take a peek into these amazing blends and see how they can transform your cooking into something fantastic.
So, here is a guide to help you learn and discover more when you are looking for middle eastern spices.
Middle Eastern Spices
Aleppo pepper is one of the mildest peppers with nothing inside for flesh or seeds, making them perfect for your salads, which require slight flavouring. Apart from moderate heat, Aleppo pepper will give your food a subtle fruitiness and saltiness.
You can find this pepper only in some parts of Syria and Turkey.
Anise is one of the finest and oldest spices known to mankind, as the oldest Egyptian civilization used it for cooking and medicinal purposes. As for the flavour, anise has a tangy taste, which is used to add that lemony kick to your licorice candies, foods, and cocktails. The tanginess is not too overpowering rather slightly sweet and aromatic for appealing to all the senses.
What medicinal values anise has, you may ask. Well, it is used for treating cough and indigestion.
Popular in most households nowadays, cumin is a native of Egypt that has been adopted by countries like India as their own. Apart from India, North American and Chinese populations are also a patron of the spice to add a spicy, warm flavor to their vegetarian and non-vegetarian preparations.
Coriander seeds and leaves are widely popular all across the planet, but their origin traces back to Palestinian regions of the Middle East. While the leaves give fresh, green colour to the dishes and condiments, the seeds are ground into a powder to add spiciness to various cuisines. Indian and Mughlai kitchens cannot survive a day without this spice.
The seeds have a warm, nutty flavour, which is cherished by many.
After saffron, which is the most expensive spice in the world, cardamom is the second most expensive with its aroma reaching from Southern India and Egypt to all corners of the world. Its mildly sweet, pungent, yet soothing flavour makes it equally suitable for desserts and savoury dishes.
Middle Eastern Spice Blends
Whenever you step into a traditional Middle-eastern kitchen in action, you will be welcomed by the fragrant aroma of Baharat or “spices” as they call it there. Essentially, Baharat is a mixture of cinnamon, coriander, clove, cardamom, nutmeg, paprika, black pepper, and cumin powder. It is used for flavouring a wide variety of dishes ranging from chicken stew, fish, pork, and biryani.
Even if you cannot find baharat mix when looking for middle eastern spices, you can grind some spices at home and prepare it fresh.
The Ras El Hanout is an aromatic and complex Moroccan spice blend used popularly for Moroccan cuisines. The literal translation of this blend is ‘’ head to the shop’’, meaning, this mix of spices is the best of all the offerings in a spice shop. It is used liberally in mrouzia, a honey and lamb dish with great seasoning. Hence it is also called as the mrouzia spice.
Remember that sourcing Ras El Hanout from different sources will not fetch you the same version of the blend. You may notice slight variations in flavour because the blend differs from one region to another. Mostly, nutmeg, cardamom, mace, anise, ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, and various peppers are used to prepare this blend. Typically, the blend is prepared by grinding whole spices, leaves and dried roots together. You can use it as a rub, condiment or as a seasoning to dishes like tajines, and stews.
As one of the finest Middle Eastern spice blends, za’atar is a blend that is fragrant and tangy with a hint of nuttiness. It blends together marjoram, dried thyme, oregano, toasted sesame seeds, salt and spices like sumac. You can use it with red meat to add a subtle background flavour or with fish and poultry for adding a brighter note. Za’atar gives a fantastic taste when sprinkled on top of flatbread, and grilled vegetables. You can even use this in dips like tzatziki, hummus, and ghanoush. It is also used with pita, which is first dipped in olive oil and then in za’atar.
Literally meaning ‘to pound’ and pronounced as ‘doo-kah’, this spice blend mixes freshly toasted and ground seeds with nuts. For that crunch element, combine hazelnuts or peanuts with pumpkin or sesame seeds and dried herbs. Nuts are loaded with proteins and healthy fats essential for the functioning of your brain and overall body.
Middle Eastern spice blends are a welcome addition to your food. This one too does not disappoint. Its thick texture is ideal for roasting as it crisps up further in the oven. Use it to crust your chicken, fish, lamb or tofu. Toss popcorn or fried chickpeas in a tablespoon of dukkah and you have an interesting snack to munch on. Sprinkling this mix on pasta, feta cheese, fresh fruit and roasted vegetables gives them a lovely kick.
To make this crimson blend combine dried garlic, sweet paprika, salt, cumin, caraway seeds, a dash of vegetable oil and smoked hot peppers. Harissa is considered a prized dry rub for grilled meats and flavourful addition to soups and long-simmered stews. It also enhances dips, appetisers, pizzas and even scrambled eggs.
Capsaicin is the compound found in hot peppers which reduces blood pressure. Spiced up food cuts down your yearning for salty, fatty and sweet bites thus, keeps your calorie intake to the bare minimum.
The Middle East is a culturally rich region that has made quite an influential impact on the global culinary scene. It boasts complex and aromatic spice blends that help you discover the characteristic flavours of this intriguing cuisine. One common factor that stands out in delicacies that originate from this part of the globe, is their love for flavourful food.
From falafel to hummus, to salads, to flatbreads and dips, as well as traditional vegetable and meat tagines, Middle Eastern food is an exciting delight for the palate. The biggest contributing factor, is the use of distinct Middle Eastern spice blends like tangy za’atar, aromatic baharat, nutty dukkah, and fragrant advieh.
Let us highlight the unique qualities of these intoxicating spice blends:
A single spice blend can successfully shoulder the responsibility of upping the flavour in multiple dishes. Whether you need to marinate meats or flavour rice and stews, using just one of the many exotic Middle Eastern spice blends can do the trick. It saves you the trouble of using a combination of different spices to bring your dish to the right taste.
For example, za’atar, when combined with olive oil, makes a flavourful dip and also enhances roasts and sautéed recipes. Squeeze some lemon juice to this exciting za’atar and olive oil concoction and make yourself a classic dressing for fresh salads. A dash of za’atar when added to breadcrumbs gives a novel twist to your regular coating for both vegetable and meat dishes.
These spice blends serve another purpose besides raising the level of your cooking many notches; consuming them benefits you in many healthy ways as the spice blends native to this region contain highly nutritional ingredients. To begin with, the nuts incorporated are bursting with healthy fats and proteins. Both these elements are integral to the functioning of the human brain and body.
Toasted sesame seeds are another common component of Middle Eastern spice blends. The minerals released from toasting sesame seeds are used by our bodies to process carbohydrates, proteins, and cholesterol. Besides, sesame seeds are a fantastic source of copper, iron, manganese, magnesium, and calcium. Thyme is another medicinal herb found in these famous spice blends. It is known for its respiratory benefits, treatment of skin ailments, and possesses beneficial antimicrobial properties.
Strike the Right Balance
Middle Eastern spice blends are renowned for their ability to lend a lovely combination of flavours. With each spoonful, you get hints of smokiness and sweetness, which makes for a pleasant surprise. To further elaborate, baharat has a smoky undertone and is subtly sweet like advieh. Za’atar lends a touch of tanginess owing to its citrus attributes.
Spice blend from the Middle East is truly indispensable for most of the cuisines prepared today. They add an irresistible touch of flavours to your plate. Having them in your kitchen cabinet will make your cooking exciting and exquisite.
There is undoubtedly an unending list of Middle East spices; all you have to do is choose the right ones for your spice rack.