Middle Eastern Spice Blends
The Roland Foods Middle Eastern Spice Guide
Middle Eastern Spice Blends That Should Be on Your Radar
Not sure which spices are a fit for your kitchen? Read on to learn more about the best of the bunch and how they might add some pep to your cooking routine.
Herbaceous and savory, there are few things that a sprinkle of za’atar doesn’t improve. A mix of dried herbs and spices such as sumac, cumin, sesame seeds, salt, and perhaps most critically, thyme—the Arabic word za'atar, literally translates to "thyme"—this spice blend is quintessential to Middle Eastern cuisines. The aromatic and earthy stuff is perfect as a garnish or a rub: Use it to anoint an appetizer of creamy labneh, a rich and tangy cheese that’s a spiritual cousin to Greek yogurt. It’s also great tossed on a plate of freshly-fried chicken for a taste of the Middle East by way of the American South.
Tart and citrusy, this blood-red spice is made from dried and crushed sumac berries. It imparts a tang similar to vinegar or lemon juice, and no surprise here, should be used similarly. It’s traditionally used as a garnish on top of hummus, green salads, rice pilaf, or meaty kebabs, but we also love it sprinkled on top of caramelized brussels sprouts or a creamy feta dip. It’s even fantastic for coating the rim of a citrusy cocktail.
A workhorse of a spice blend originally hailing from Egypt, dukkah is hearty mix of ground peanuts, sesame, and dried herbs. Its name comes from the Arabic word for “to pound,” and has an appealingly thick and crunchy texture that’s not quite a powder and not quite a paste. It’s stellar for building a thick crust on roasted lamb or beef; it only crisps up more in the oven. Dukkah is also a dream in the snack department: Toss a tablespoon of it atop movie popcorn or crispy fried chickpeas.
Love heat? This vibrantly-hued, fiery spice is a crimson blend of sweet paprika, dried garlic, caraway seeds, salt, cumin, hot chili pepper, and a hint of vegetable oil. Originally from Tunisia, harissa is prized as a dry rub for tender grilled meats or a flavorful addition to long-simmered chicken tagines, a type of North African stew. But it’s also great in more Western fare like scrambled eggs at brunch or an eggplant and mozzarella hoagie.
Made from the stigmas of crocus flowers, threads of saffron are among the most prized and priciest ingredients on Earth. But the good news is that a little goes a long way: A mere pinch is all you need to turn a simmering pot of rich, creamy risotto a golden-yellow hue and impart a delicate floral aroma. A favorite spice of the ancient Persians and Greeks, legend has it that Alexander the Great spiked his rice with saffron thinking it had curative properties. Just remember to soak the strands in warm water before using; it helps them better release their color and scent.
Shawarma is a fragrant and earthy spice blend brightened up by citrusy coriander and sweet fenugreek. It is typically blended with yogurt, vinegar, garlic and onions and poured over thing slices of meat. Traditionally, the thin slices of meat are skewered over a long spit and grilled to juicy perfection.
Za’atar, Roland's most popular Middle Eastern ingredient, is the star of the show in this satisfying side dish. Za’atar adds a zesty note, while tahini lends a welcome creaminess. Pistachio and olive oils bring the flavors home, with floral and spicy notes that kick things into high gear. Serve this dish at your next potluck dinner or make a big batch on Sunday night for lunches through the week.
Our partners at Emma's Torch have been creating beautiful dishes using Roland Foods spices and many of our other ingredients. Here is a delicious lamb recipe, featuring our Shawarma spice, that they are serving in their Brooklyn-based cafe.
Za'atarProduct Details >
Za’atar Israeli Couscous Salad
For the salad
Roland® Fine Sea Salt
2 tsp. Roland® Za’atar Spice
1 (21.16 oz) canister Roland® Israeli Couscous (can be substituted with Roland® Maftoul)
1 pint grape tomatoes, quartered
1 cup Roland® Piquillo Peppers, diced
1 bunch green onions, sliced thinly on the bias
1 cup pistachios, chopped, reserving some whole for garnish
3⁄4 cup Roland® Pitted Oil Cured Olives
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
For the vinaigrette
2 tbsp. Roland® Za’atar Spice
1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. Roland® Za’atar Tahini
1⁄2 cup Don Bruno® Sherry Vinegar
1⁄4 cup Roland® Pistachio Oil
1⁄4 cup Roland® Extra Virgin Olive Oil
In large pot, bring salted water to a boil, add 2 tsp. za’atar spice and couscous. Cook couscous until just al dente, drain and immediately rinse in cold water until couscous is cool.
While couscous is cooking, cut tomatoes, peppers, green onions, and chop pistachios. Set aside.
To make the vinaigrette, in a medium bowl, combine 2 tbsp. za’atar spice, 1 tbsp. and 1 tsp. za’atar tahini, 1⁄2 cup sherry vinegar and salt; whisk in oils.
Combine all remaining ingredients in a large bowl (reserving some green onions and feta cheese for garnish) and toss with vinaigrette. Taste and add more za’atar spice and salt if desired.
Garnish with green onion, feta cheese, and whole pistachios.
Shawarma SpiceProduct Details >
Roasted Lamb Shank with Persian Rice
2 lamb shanks
½ cup Roland© Shawarma Spice
1 cup Roland© Basmati Rice
4 cardamom pods
2 bay leaves
¼ teaspoon turmeric
1 head of butter lettuce or Bibb lettuce (leaves separated and washed)
1 qt. cider vinegar
0.75 cup Roland© Dijon Mustard
0.75 cup Roland© Honey
10 each shallot
5 each garlic clove
20 sprigs thyme leaves
2 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoon black pepper (ground)
2.5 qt. Roland© Canola Oil
0.25 cup whole grain mustard
1 tablespoon chopped parsley/chive/tarragon
Generously rub the lamb shanks with shawarma spice. Place in a non-reactive tray, wrap in plastic, and store refrigerated overnight. The next day, preheat an oven to 300º F. Season the lamb shanks with kosher salt and place in a baking dish on a baking rack. Cover with aluminum foil and roast in the oven for approximately 4 ½ hours. For the last 30 minutes, roast uncovered. The lamb is finished when it is tender and pulls from the bone easily.
You can make fragrant rice by either the absorption method or using a rice cooker. In either case, cook the rice using 1.5 cups of water, a pinch of salt, cardamom, and bay leaves. Cook until the rice is tender and grains separate. Once cooked, fluff the rice and keep warm. Using a medium flame, heat a small (8 inch) non-stick pan. Once the pan is hot, coat the bottom of the pan in oil and the turmeric. Carefully pack a ½ inch thick layer of rice in to the pan. Cook the rice until the pan for approximately 5 minutes (to develop and golden crust), then turn the rice out on to a plate to see the crispy, golden crust.
Using a hand blender or traditional blender, puree vinegar, honey, dijon mustard, shallot, clove, thyme, parsley/chive/tarragon, salt and pepper. Once everything is well mixed, slowly add canola oil to make an emulsified vinaigrette. Finish by mixing in the whole grain mustard.
To create your plate, break into your crispy rice and place in the center of your plate. Place the lamb shank just to the left of the rice. Lightly dress your lettuce with the mustard vinaigrette and finish with the chopped herbs. Place your lettuce to the right of the rice. Finish the plate with your favorite pickled vegetables, picked mint, and/or plain yogurt.
Photo: Giada Randaccio Skouras Sweeny