Are so mixed in the Middle East

Homemade spice mixes and delicious recipes: discover Middle Eastern cuisine at home

Which spices you should cook with more often

Voyages of discovery into new kitchens always lead along the spice rack: like no other ingredient, they determine the characteristic flavors and make it clear how, for example, mild German dishes differ from intense Indian cuisine. Spices also tell us our story and show how intertwined the peoples of the world are, who brought which ingredients to new areas and how they were reinterpreted there.

Today's voyage of discovery takes us into Middle Eastern cuisine and in the extremely full spice rack we will meet, for example, Baharat and Zatar, Sumac and Urfa Biber. Even if only a few of them tell you something at first, we promise that they will enrich your kitchen. We'll introduce you to a few of the most important spices, show you how to make aromatic spice mixtures yourself at home and which simple yet tasty dishes you can cook with them.

8 spices that should find their way into your kitchen

In Middle Eastern cuisine, a lot of vegetables, legumes, chicken, beef and lamb are cooked. Flatbreads and pita breads, coffee and tea are well-known ingredients, but spices and herbs certainly play one of the main roles. A characteristic spice that is still little known to us is sumac.

The deep red spice has a fruity, sour-tart taste and is therefore often used as an alternative to lemons or vinegar. It is obtained from tanner sumac, a plant with small, round stone fruits that turn purple-red when ripe. They are then dried and ground. Sumac is used as a table spice and can be sprinkled over almost any dish imaginable. It refines casseroles with poultry or vegetables, seafood, rice, dips and salads such as fattoush.

The Lebanese bread salad Fattoush is a traditional starter, also called "mezze", made from fresh vegetables, e.g. B. tomatoes and cucumbers, as well as herbs such as parsley or mint. In addition, thin flatbread or pita bread is fried in a pan with oil and then torn into small pieces. Similar to crôutons, it gives the salad a crispy note. Classic ingredients for the salad dressing are garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, mint and said sumac. It gives the dressing its unmistakable, intense taste in no time at all, which is so delicious that we sprinkle it over the bread salad before serving.

In addition to sumac, there is an almost endless selection of spices that you should definitely try. Just a pinch of it is often enough to steer dishes in a completely new direction. Unfortunately, it would go beyond the scope of this article to introduce them all, so here we have an overview with other selected spices for you to start your next cooking adventure with.

Instead of often buying overpriced spice mixes, it's worth making them yourself. This is not only cheaper, but also ensures that in the end you know exactly what is in the mixture. While it is best to use a mortar to grind the spices, a knife with a curved edge is particularly suitable for chopping herbs and nuts - for example the chef's knife from the ZWILLING Pro series.

Baharat is the Arabic word for “spices” and denotes a mixture of herbs that is often used in Middle Eastern cuisine. Although the composition varies depending on the region, it is typically found in cardamom, coriander, cumin, nutmeg, cloves, pepper, paprika and cinnamon. Baharat is often used for grilled dishes - you can rub meat with it, add it to marinades, but also use it to refine rice and vegetable dishes. The spice mixture is used in a very special way in the so-called "Coffee Baharat", a spicy mocha.

Dukkah originally comes from North Africa, but is widespread in Middle Eastern cuisine and has been conquering the rest of the world for a few years now. Ingredients or proportions can change from family to family. The focus is always on herbs (e.g. mint, thyme, marjoram), nuts (often hazelnuts, but also cashews and others) and spices such as cumin, coriander, fennel, salt and pepper. Classically, dukkah is served as a starter with bread and olive oil or used to refine many classic dishes.

A pinch of dukkah enhances almost every imaginable dish and also gives it a light crunch. This aromatic chicken pilaf is a one-pot rice dish that is great as a tasty and quick-to-cook midweek dinner. Glassy steamed onions, garlic and rice are covered with poultry stock and simmer until the rice is cooked through and wonderfully fluffy. We combined fried chicken with it. For the vegetarian variant, you simply replace the poultry stock with vegetable broth and add, for example, chickpeas, cauliflower or eggplant to the rice. Dried fruits add a bit of sweetness to the dish, but ultimately the wow factor is provided by dukkah, which is sprinkled over the pilaf - irresistibly delicious!

Zatar means “thyme” in Arabic - and that is exactly what the spice mixture of the same name contains. Oregano, sesame, sea salt, sumac and coriander are also often found in it. The spice seeds are roasted, the herbs finely ground in a mortar and finally everything is mixed together. Zatar refines dips, marinades, salads, and can be mixed with olive oil on flatbread, meat or vegetables.

Eggplants are a common vegetable in Middle Eastern cuisine and are pureed to make Baba Ganoush, for example. But they can also be easily prepared in the oven. So that they cook evenly and the zatar-olive oil mixture can be distributed well, they are cut crosswise beforehand. While the eggplants are roasting in the oven, you have enough time to mix the creamy sesame dip with fresh herbs. Depending on how hungry you are, this recipe can be served as a starter or main meal.

No matter which spices and spice blends you choose, here are a few more useful tips that apply to everyone.

5 quick tips for spices and spice mixtures

1. Use only whole grains for spice mixtures and then grind them yourself as finely as possible in a mortar or spice grinder. Spices that have already been ground from the supermarket have lost most of their aroma and taste milder.

2. Spices for special country kitchens are often very expensive in the supermarket - instead look for a country-specific shop nearby. In Turkish supermarkets, it is more likely that you will find most of the spices mentioned here and that they are significantly cheaper.

3. You should always roast nuts and whole seeds in a fat-free pan before you grind them - this is how they develop their aroma optimally.

4. Spices and spice mixtures should be stored airtight in a dark, cool place. Moisture, heat and light are their natural enemies.

5. Even if spices do not go moldy, they still have a kind of “use by date” because they lose more and more flavor over time. It is best not to buy large quantities and use them within 3 months - a small sticker that you stick on the spice jar and on which you can write down all the important information helps.

Even more spice pastes and aromatics

Spice pastes also give Middle Eastern cuisine its characteristic taste: from the spicy sauce "S-chug" made from coriander, chilli, garlic and spices, to the spicy paste "Harissa", to "Pilpelchuma", an intense chilli-garlic paste.

At the other end of the taste spectrum, however, rose water and edible rose petals are still waiting for you, which you should definitely try. Rose water is the result of the distillation of rose oil and is often used to refine desserts. Both give desserts a flowery, fruity note. In Middle Eastern cuisine, rose water is mainly used for desserts that are based on milk, such as malabi.

The cold milk pudding Malabi is a refreshing dessert and very easy to prepare. First, starch is mixed in part of the milk and rose water before it is added to the whipped cream and the rest of the milk. The mixture is heated while stirring until it thickens and then cools down in glasses. Finally, pomegranate syrup, chopped pistachios, edible rose petals and cardamom refine the malabi. Trust us - this dessert is so simple and tastes so different and fresh that you will be amazed!

Published on March 29, 2019