Traditional Middle Eastern spices like za’atar and Aleppo pepper seem to be showing no signs of disappearing from a variety of menus, but there are quite a few other important Middle Eastern spices and blends. So, we’ve rounded up a few of our faves, from fragrant blends with cardamom, paprika, and black pepper to seeds and herbs used ubiquitously. Ready to get spicy?
Baharat actually means “spices” in Arabic, and this blend is used widely in Middle Eastern cuisines. It’s also known as “Seven Spices” in Lebanese cuisine. While the precise blend can differ from region to region (even household to household!), a basic recipe (which, contrary to the “seven” spices moniker actually contains eight!) includes black pepper, coriander seed, paprika, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, and cumin—all heated together in a pan and then ground finely. Baharat has a warm, earthy flavor, and is used widely to season vegetables, meat, fish—everything!
We’re big fans of shawarma, a Middle Eastern street food dish of meat very thinly sliced from a vertical rotisserie. It’s usually served in a flatbread with sauces and vegetable additions. Our versions skip the spit-roasting in favor of pan-searing, but we’ve created our own version of a shawarma spice blend that ensures that smoky, sultry flavor by combining smoked paprika, turmeric, cumin, and cayenne pepper. Some shawarma spice blends also contain cinnamon, ground ginger, ground coriander, and black pepper, among other ingredients. Shawarma spice makes for an excellent marinade for all sorts of proteins.
Ras el Hanout
Hailing from North Africa, Ras el Hanout, translates in Arabic to “head of the shop”, signifying its superlative nature among spice blends. A common version of this fragrant blend would include cumin, ginger, salt, pepper, cinnamon, coriander, cayenne, allspice, turmeric, paprika, and cloves, and perhaps chili flakes. Ras el hanout is particularly different from baharat and shawarma spice in its inclusion of salt. Rich, slightly spicy, and complex, it’s excellent on chicken and fish, sprinkled on before cooking.
These small black seeds known as kalonji in Hindi or by the scientific term nigella sativa have a strong, slightly bitter oniony flavor and are used often in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines. They’re often dry toasted in a pan first, and then often sprinkled over flatbreads. Not only do they impart a unique flavor, they’re a colorful contrast with another popular flatbread topping: sesame seeds.
How obsessed are we with sumac? Let us count the ways. This dark red spice commonly used in Middle Eastern and North African cooking packs a serious bright, citrusy punch, and is honestly a multipurpose ingredient. We use it as a seasoning for veggies, and to add tang to dressings and marinades.
While we typically use mint in its fresh form—chopped into dishes or sprinkled over as a garnish—dried mint (generally spearmint) is a commonly employed herb in Middle Eastern food and, of course, in tea! It’s used as a salad seasoning as well as in omelets, labneh, and many other preparations. It’s easy to make, as well, you simply allow the mint to dry and then crumble it.
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