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Middle Eastern spices can pack quite a culinary punch. Used separately or together, many herbs and spices of the Middle East can dramatically improve the flavor and color of a meal. This short description of the most commonly used herbs and spices in Middle Eastern foods will help you find the right blend.
Herbs and Spices in Middle Eastern Foods
Cumin is a flowering plant which produces one strong, spicy seed. Use cumin to add flavor and spice to meat dishes such as lamb or beef. Cumin should be used sparingly as a very little goes a long way.
Saffron’s distinctive yellow color and sweet and complex taste are used in herb and spice blends in Middle Eastern foods. Whether you are using it to spice up a lamb dish, or to create a side dish of yellow rice use saffron to enhance both the color and the flavor of the food.
Turmeric can be used in place of saffron in many dishes. It provides a similar, yellow color but with a spicier, stronger flavor. Some find the flavor of turmeric to be bitter, so use sparingly at first and adjust.
Viewed in the west as a dessert flavor, nutmeg is used to season meat dishes throughout the Middle East. Combine nutmeg with cumin and cinnamon on a beef or chicken dish for a complex flavor.
A spicy and sweet seed pod, cardamom is ground up and added to both desserts and beverages. Frequently added to Turkish coffee, cardamom can lend a subtle flavor to many foods.
Sumac is a purple spice that gives a sour, tangy flavor similar to lemons to many foods. Add it to salads or raw vegetables to enhance their flavor or to meat dishes as a complement to flavors such as saffron.
Caraway seeds have a sweet and spicy flavor that adds complexity to many foods. Add caraway seeds to soups or stews to spice up the flavor. Caraway frequently brings a flavor of dill to a dish as well; use complementary spices sparingly. This is a somewhat common spice used in Middle Eastern foods.
A mixture of spices frequently kept on hand for flavoring a number of dishes, baharat can vary by country and region. Baharat frequently contains cinnamon, cardamom, pepper, cumin, coriander, cloves and nutmeg among other spices and most frequently contains seven spices in total.
Za’atar is another mixture of herbs and spices used in Middle Eastern foods. Oregano, marjoram, salt, thyme, sumac and sesame seeds can all be found in this authentic spice mixture.
Roasted, left whole or ground, sesame seeds are an integral part of Middle Eastern cuisines. From dessert to mezze, any well stocked Middle Eastern kitchen will contain sesame seeds.
See also: Want to learn more about herbs and spices from around the world? Check out this piece on the many flavors of herbs and spices out there!
Stocking a spice cabinet with these Middle Eastern spices will ensure authentic tasting recipes each time. Use any combination of these spices to create an enticing array of foods from mezze to entrees to desserts.