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Monday, May 12, 2008

Dukkah: An Egyptian Nut and Spice Blend


The Magic of Dukkah
by Victoria Challancin

My first encounter with dukkah (alternately spelled duqqa or du'a depending on both the transliteration from Arabic and the local dialect), was in the Spice Souk in Cairo over 25 years ago. Ever fascinated by the unknown, I latched my attention upon the stalls that sold what appeared to be a spice mixture which was doled out into paper cones. Captivated, I watched as some people took their cones with them, nibbling as they walked. Clearly, it was a snack. Then I saw others who were given strips of fresh pita bread by the vendor to dip into small bowls of olive oil and then in the dukkah. Evidently, it was a condiment as well. I might not have been exactly certain what it was that I was observing, but I knew I wanted some. And once I had tasted it, I knew I wanted to duplicate it at home.

I returned to Bahrain where I lived, searched my cookbooks for a recipe, asked Arab friends and students if they knew of it, and finally forgot about it until my next trip to Egypt. At this point, determination, curiosity, and the generosity of a friend yielded a concrete recipe. Later, I tweaked it to suit my own taste. My own version follows.

What exactly is dukkah?

Dukkah is a blend of ground nuts and spices best known in Egypt, but eaten throughout the Middle East. The word dukkah comes from an Arabic verb meaning "to pound," much like pestare in Italian, from which we get pesto. Traditionally, all ingredients were first toasted individually in a dry skillet, and then pounded with a mortar and pestle to a coarse mixture. Recipes vary, but a traditional recipe would probably contain toasted hazelnuts and chickpeas, and would definitely include sesame, coriander, and cumin seeds as well. Either dried thyme or mint would give an herbal note. Today, a food processor or spice grinder makes short order of the process.


Recipe: Dukkah (An Egyptian Nut and Spice Blend)
(Recipe by Victoria Challancin)
Makes about 2 1/4 cups.

1/2 cup sesame seeds, lightly toasted
1/2 cup coriander seeds, lightly toasted
1 cup mixed hazelnuts and almonds, toasted
1/4 cup cumin seeds, toasted
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Toast sesame seeds, coriander seeds, hazelnuts or almonds, and cumin seeds individually in a dry skillet. Allow to cool. Grind the toasted seeds and nuts individually in a spice/coffee grinder. Be careful not to over mix as they will become pasty. Place in a bowl and mix well, adding the salt and pepper. Store in a glass container for about a month.


Variations
There are many ingredients that could be added to this recipe, some traditional, some not. Experiment and let your taste preferences guide you. Just remember, look for a balance. The ingredients are flexible, but no one flavor should dominate.

Miscellaneous Additions:
Paprika
Ground Sumac
Za'atar
Smoked Spanish Paprika
Turmeric
Curry powder or Garam Masala
Moroccan Ras al Hanout
Cashews
Pistachios
Macadamia nuts
Sunflower seeds
Pumpkin seeds
Poppy seeds
Caraway seeds
Grated orange or lemon zest
Dried coconut and cinnamon (a sweet blend for a fruit salad perhaps)

How to Use Dukkah
Use it as a dip with olive oil and pita bread
Sprinkle over cooked vegetables
Add to a salad
Mix with yogurt for a dip for raw vegetables
Roll hard-boiled quail eggs in it for an hors d'oeuvres
Sprinkle it over regular deviled eggs
Mix into bread of muffin dough
Mix with honey for a sandwich bread
Make an Arab-style guacamole
Sprinkle over marinated cheese
Use a a garnish for soup
Add depth to rice dishes
Add to a watermelon-feta-basil salad
Roll balls of strained thick yogurt in dukkah, place in a jar, and top with olive oil
Use as crust for shrimp, chicken breasts, or pork (my favorite way to use it)

I hope by now your own imagination has taken over. You are looking for crunch, mystery, and fun. Let your taste buds guide you!

I discussed this recipe in an interview on The Expat Radio Show (WTBQ 1110 AM in New York) with gracious host Tai Aguirre. I am thrilled to report that I will have a regular spot on the show, where I will share not only recipes, but information on herbs, travel tips, and more. Thank you, Tai, for this great opportunity to share!

This dukkah recipe will also be my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, originated by the helpful and generous Kalyn Denny of kalynskitchen.blogspot.com and hosted this week by Gay, a molecular biologist who hosts A Scientist in the Kitchen (ascientistinthekitchen.net).













7 comments:

gay said...

This looks like an exciting addition to salads, I can't wait to try this at home.

Kalyn said...

Great post about this! Dukkah is something I've been dying to try, and lately I've read about it on several blogs, with everyone giving it rave reviews. How exciting to have discovered it in the way you did.

seemie said...

I can't wait to buy pita bread to try dukkah as a dip!
Great post!

Graziana

www.erbeincucina.it

Simona said...

How interesting! Something to definitely try.

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