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19 April 2009

Spices

Sarka Babicka

Allspice is not a mixture of spices but an actual spice from the dried unripe berries of the Pimenta dioica plant which is native to Central America, Mexico and extremely popular in Jamaican cuisine. Allspice is also indispensable in Middle Eastern cuisine. It is used to flavor a variety of the stews and dishes frequently being the sole spice called for.

Advieh, is a Persian spice blend of 5 or more spices. The exact ingredients in a blend of advieh will differ and depend on such variables as what’s being cooked, geographical location in Iran and as always personal taste. Advieh is available commercially from Iranian (Indian & Middle Eastern) grocery stores, however, it is far more satisfying to make it at home tweaked to individual taste. When used with rice dishes, advieh tends to be more fragrant and is sprinkled on the rice just before serving or during the steaming process. If you are looking for spicier flavours add black pepper and cloves.

Seven Spices is a mixture of spices which will vary according to country though typically include black and white pepper, allspice, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and coriander.  A typical Lebanese seven spice mix will combine cloves, allspice, fenugreek, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon and freshly ground pepper. A recipe for a Lebanese seven spice mix can be found in The Jewelled Kitchen cookbook (hyperlink to book)

Fenugreek

Tumeric

Saffron is used extensively in the North African and Persian kitchens. Although it is a delicately aromatic and mildly pungent spice, using too much will yield an overpowering medicinal taste, so use it sparingly. The deeper the colour of the threads, the better the quality. Ready-ground saffron can easily be adulterated, so I recommend using saffron threads. Store the saffron threads in an airtight jar in a cool, dark place. The Jewelled Kitchen features many recipes with saffron including how to make saffron liquid

Salep flour is prominently used in both the popular milk and spice beverage, also known by the same name, as well as this light and stretchy ice cream. The Arabic word salep translates to “fox testicles” named so as the tubers resemble the testicles of a fox. Salep is a flour milled from the dried tubers of a wild orchid species found in the Anatolian plateau and lends a very unique elastic, stretchy texture to the ice cream. Salep can be quite hard to find and rather expensive but you could substitute with 2 teaspoons of cornstarch or even some ground mastic gum. See salep ice cream, pxx and fritter threads, pxx.

Mahlab is a spice derived from the sour cherry stones of the St. Lucia tree (Prunus Mahaleb). The Kernels from these dark crimson-red cherries, whereby are ground to an aromatic powder. The flavour is a combination of bitter almond and cherry. Mahlab is used for its unique taste, ground or whole, to flavour differing dishes around the Middle East, especially to flavour breads and sweets. See maamoul pxx, naked sausages, pxx, venison kebabs, pxx. If the recipe is calling for the actual sour cherries (see kataifi venison kebabs, pxx or stuffed Persian chicken, pxx), the most commonly found sour cherries here are called morello cherries and are very easy to find at chain supermarkets.

Aleppo pepper, closely resembling the Ancho in flavor, hails from Aleppo, Syria but are also grown in neighboring Turkey and known as Isot Biber. They are a bright red, mildly spicy pepper, with a high oil content and a hint of fruity sweetness with earthy, smoky tones. Aleppo pepper paste is difficult to find in the West though varying qualities of crushed chili flakes can be found in most Middle Eastern stores and sourced online. See muhammara and other recipes.

Other important spices: cinnamon, cumin, coriander, cayenne, paprika & Aleppo pepper.

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