Wednesday, October 23, 2013

What's in a middle eastern kitchen pantry?

Are you into Middle Eastern cooking yet? Then you'll probably need to stock up on those nine middle eastern pantry stables.

middle eastern spices

1- Tahini

Also known as "hardah" here in the Arabic Gulf area. This thick, earthy sesame paste is used in sauces, especially with Shawarma , hummus and baba ghanoush. Or simply enjoyed as a dip with dates. It is also the main component of a famous Kuwaiti sweet Rahash.


2- Saffron

You probably guessed this one. The most expensive spice in the world is a stable here in Kuwait and the other Arab gulf countries. It's the main flavoring in almost every traditional dessert. Also used with rice, stews and even tea. The proper way to use this delicate spice is to grind it with a little bit of sugar then to soak it with a bit of hot water.  


3- Za'atar

Native to the Levant countries, this popular middle eastern herb mix is made from a blend of dried earthy herbs such as oregano, thyme and basil, plus sesame, sumac and salt. There are probably hundreds of kinds and recipes all based on the main components but with different ratios. But the best za'atar still comes from Palestine and Jordan. The common way to eat za'atar is to mix it with olive oil as a spread or a dip.


4- Spices

We Middle Easterns are very fond of our spices. If you could peak into my spice cabinet right now you'll probably find at least twenty different kinds. Commonly used spices are : bay leaves, cardamom, turmeric, cinnamon, gloves and cumin. 


5- Pomegranate Molasses

This tangy sweet syrup might be the secret  undetectable ingredient in many of the delicious middle eastern dishes. Native to Iran, it is especially popular in Persian cuisine.

Pomegranate Molasses دبس رمان


Made from a flowering plant, this dry crimson spice is used in salad dressings, stir fries or as a garnish. It gives a lemony sour flavor.


7- Zereshk 

Continuing with the tangy sweet flavor theme, these small jeweled looking dried fruit is something very unique to the Persian cuisine. Because of my iranian roots I have been exposed to zereshk from an early age and it is a stable in my family's cooking, but not everyone in the middle east, especially the Arab countries is familiar with it. Sautéed with a bit of butter and sugar it is perfect with rice and stuffings.  

dried barberries ( zereshk)

My husband took a trip to Iran a few weeks ago and he sent me this picture of fresh barberries that I find very interesting.


8- Dates

High up the palm trees that beautifully populate the hot, sunny Arab countries, these sticky, sweet, full of fiber and iron fruits are grown. But they are not picked this way. The first blooms of the tree are called " Khalal خلال". These are yellow, hard , has a rough texture and slight sweetness. When they ripe, they become dark brown, soft, juicy and a lot sweeter. They are called "Rutab رطب".  To preserve the fruit, they are then dried up in the sun and tightly packed in an air-vacuumed plastic bag. At this stage they are called "Tamer تمر" which is  the final stage and  the most consumed. There are many kinds of dates, the most popular in Kuwait is "Birhi برحي". Dates are often enjoyed by themselves with a side dip of tahini or sour cream. Sometimes they are used in cakes and desserts.


9- Rose Water/ Blossom Water

This ancient discovery, made from the distilled water of the damask rose, is not only used in dishes to give a light, distinct fresh flavor, but also used for beauty purposes and religious ceremonies throughout the Arab Gulf countries and Iran. In the Levant countries and North Africa they use orange/lemon blossom water which has an entirely different flavor but essentially has the same purpose and uses. 

Rose Water