With its history as a crossroads for trade between the East and the West, the Middle East is home to a range of cuisines that use exotic spices from across the globe. Try some of these spices in the recipes for Falafel Waffles and Spiced Marinated Chicken with Orange, Fennel & Zucchini (on the previous page). Read on for more wonderful ways to wake up your cooking, Middle-Eastern style.
The tan seed of the cilantro plant, coriander has a subtly sweet, lemony flavor. It is native to southern Europe, North Africa and southwestern Asia. The spice is typically available ground, but for a more intense flavor and aroma, toast whole coriander seeds lightly in a dry skillet before grinding them or adding them whole to dishes. Coriander is a classic addition to Middle-Eastern seafood and vegetable recipes; try it in fish stew, homemade falafel or lentil soup.
Light-brown cumin seeds come from a member of the parsley family that’s native to the eastern Mediterranean. Cumin’s distinctive, earthy flavor is unmistakable in many Middle-Eastern staple dishes. Use the ground version, or toast the whole seeds until fragrant before adding them to dishes or grinding for recipes. The spice adds zip to fish and shellfish dishes and to couscous, marinades and dips such as hummus.
A spice made from the ground fruit of a red pepper plant that originated in Central America, paprika can range from mild to fiery. Sweet smoked paprika and hot smoked paprika are both dried slowly over a wood fire for several weeks, which imparts a delicious flavor to the seasoning. Use your favorite type of paprika in iconic Middle-Eastern favorites like baba ghanoush, roasted eggplant dip, fava bean soup or lamb shawarma.
Vivid, golden-orange turmeric comes from a member of the ginger family that’s native to southwest India, and has been used in cooking since 600 B.C. Its anti-flammatory properties may help relieve conditions such as arthritis and indigestion. To make the spice, the roots of the plant are boiled, dried and then pulverized into a powder. Use ground turmeric to add a slightly pungent bitter flavor to rice, Middle-Eastern-style meatballs and to recipes starring chicken, lamb or shrimp.
The brown, dried berry of a Caribbean evergreen tree, allspice has a warm, spicy flavor reminiscent of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. Native to the Greater Antilles, Central America and southern Mexico, the spice has a complex sweetness that makes it particularly indispensable in Middle-Eastern meat dishes. Try it in slow-cooked stews and in rubs for lamb, beef or chicken kabobs.