The cooler fall weather often means our palettes want to heat things up. Aside from the usual spice suspects of autumn (cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, cardamom) there are many new and exotic spices coming onto our radar, mostly hailing from the Middle East and India, that we’d love to share with you, so you won’t find yourself in the grocery store wondering, “What is this?”
Spices of the Middle East
Sumac: Middle Eastern foods are enjoying the recent limelight, in part due to the alluring spice sumac. This spice is distantly related to poison ivy and has a deep red color that can artfully change the color of dishes. Sumac is extra unique as it gives a tart, almost berry-like flavor while enhancing and elevating, but not overpowering, other spices. Sumac is used in the currently popular za’atar spice blend, and is perfect for adding color and spice to homemade hummus. Its tart flavor is also ideal for fish, lamb, and chicken dishes.
Baharat: The word baharat means ‘spice’ in Arabic. This spice is an all-purpose seasoning used in many Middle Eastern dishes. It almost always includes black pepper, cumin, cinnamon, and cloves. Other spices are added depending on tastes and region, and are typically toasted before they are mixed. This spice mix is deep in flavor and goes well with dark meats, soups, and beans.
Dukkah: This spice blend originates from Egypt, the word dukkah deriving from “to crush” as the nutty ingredients are crushed when mixing. There are many variations of dukkah, however it almost always contains nuts, seeds, usually sesame, coriander, and cumin. Other herbs (mint, or thyme) and spices (red pepper) are added depending on recipes and region. Dukkah is mostly used on flatbread and vegetables, and creates a nutty and flavorful crust for meats.
Spices of India
Black Cardamom: Known as “Bada Elachi,” or Big Cardamom, has a smokier flavor than the usual green cardamom pods we are used to; therefore, it is not as widely used in sweets like the green cardamom. The strong spice lends itself well to heavier curries in which the smoked ginger and floral flavor can come through.
Nigella Seed: These small black seeds resemble black sesame seeds, and can often be confused for them. However, the nigella seed packs more flavor than its identical twin. They are grown in Egypt and India, and are harvested from the satvia plant. They have a light smoky onion flavor, but are not related to the onion plant. Many Indian dishes use the seed as a decorative garnish, or to top flatbread (Indian naan). The seed is also widely used in curry mixes, complimenting cooked vegetables like eggplant.
Regional Curries: There are many variations of the exotic spice mix known as curry. Some parts of India prefer sweeter curries, accented with coconut powder and almond milk, while other regions may have palettes for spice, or tart flavors with lemon and yogurt.
The dishes of North East India tend to be lighter, focusing on fish, chicken and duck. The spices here are more on the savory side than the hot and spicy, and most dishes tend to rely on onions and mustard seed for flavor.
As for South India, you will find spicy vegetarian curries often paired with lentils, and sweetened with coconut milk.
We hope we have inspired you to be a little adventurous with a future meal. Add exotic spices and find some new favorite flavors this fall!