From the simple Sumac to the hot Harissa, Middle-Eastern spices can add to your culinary kitty like nothing else can. Stocking up on a few basic spice blends like Baharat and Za’atar can transform the simplest meals into new gourmet favourites for the family. Here are a few spices you should know about.
For most Indians, Middle-Eastern spices—and Middle-Eastern food, in general—are very easy to relate to and understand. Most of the spices are used in ground form, whether it’s sumac or the simple cumin. And just like in Indian cuisine, there are many spice blends that can be used across all dishes, whether they are sweet or savoury.
But because we love the addition of spices in our food, there comes a time in the life of all Indian foodies when instead of eating Gobhi Aloo and roti for dinner, we crave Harissa-flavoured baked cauliflower with Hummus and Pita. It's on these occasions that a good stock of basic Middle-Eastern spices can make it or break it for you. Whether you’re making a simple Hummus, a Mediterranean salad, a Lebanese falafel, a Turkish pilaf or grilling fish or meat for a dinner, Middle-Eastern spices can always come in handy.
So, here are a few basic Middle-Eastern spices and spice blends that every home cook and foodie should stock up on.
Also known as Sumach, this spice is derived from the berries of around 35 species of flowering plants grown across Asia and Africa. Bright red in colour, the spice is used for medicinal purposes too. Sumac may look like a red chilli powder-variant but its taste is more citrusy than hot. The spice not only pairs well with fish, meat and chickpeas, but also elevates a simple yoghurt when sprinkled on top.
There is perhaps no Middle-Eastern spice blend as popular as the savoury Za’atar. Typically, a blend of dried thyme, sumac, oregano, marjoram, toasted sesame seeds and salt, the spice comes in many variations. Za’atar is so packed with flavours that there is perhaps no savoury dish which cannot be improved with its addition.
Baharat literally means spices in Arabic, and is also known as Lebanese seven-spice—since it’s usually a blend of seven specific spices. What goes into the making of Baharat blend are black peppers, nutmeg, cumin, cardamom, cloves, coriander and paprika. The blend is spicy and smoky, which is why it’s a great addition to meats, fish, veggies and soups.
Ras El Hanout
Also known as Ras Al Hanout, this Middle-Eastern spice blend is smoky, earthy and absolutely lip-smackingly savoury. The name of the blend literally translates to ‘head of the shop’ indicating it’s made of the best spices a vendor can pick. Prepared with cinnamon, cumin, coriander, allspice, black pepper, ginger and salt, this spice blend is a must-have in your culinary kitty.
Native to the region of Maghreb, the use of this hot spice blend has spread across the Middle East, so much so that the UNESCO lists it as a part of Tunisia’s Intangible Cultural Heritage! Made with a blend of roasted red peppers, Baklouti peppers, garlic, caraway seeds, coriander, cumin and many other spices and herbs, Harissa usually comes in a paste form. However, to increase its shelf life, you can buy it in its dry avatar and add olive oil to it before using in a dish.