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Bread & Pastries
Aleppo Pepper - فلفل حلبي
A mild brick-red pepper that is grown widely in Syria and Turkey. It has a high oil content and a flakey texture and is really good with soups, salads and grilled meat. It is especially good with lentil soup and to season ground meat.
Burghul - برغل
Also known as Bulgur, which is whole wheat grains that have been cracked. It is used in many vegetarian and vegan dishes, but because it is wheat, it is not suitable for a gluten-free diet. You can find coarse burghul and fine burghul and are both used very differently. Fine Burghul is used in Tabbouleh and Kebbeh, while I use coarse bulgur in my favorite Mujaddara (burghul with black lentils) and Abu Shalhoub (burghul with zucchini). Not to be confused with Freekeh.
Dried Mint - نعنع ناشف
A very common ingredient in salads and stews. To make at home, simply pick the mint leaves only and leave them to sun dry in a plate. Alternatively, you can dry it in an oven on a very low temperature, but it won’t taste the same.
Foul (Fava beans) - فول
Has two main varieties, dried brown beans and fresh green beans. Both have very different tastes and are used differently. Both varieties are very popular and taste so good in dishes like foul shami and foul bi zait (broad beans cooked with olive oil).
Freekeh - فريكة
Young green wheat that has been toasted to give it a charred flavor. It is loaded with protein and fiber and is super healthy. It has grown very popular in healthy diets and is increasingly being compared to quinoa. Freekeh can be sold whole or more popularly cracked, but I prefer it whole (it takes more time to cook when it is whole though). Freekeh is very popular in the Middle East and is especially good in Freekeh soup, stuffed inside whole chicken or cooked as a main dish with chicken or meat. I really like it in a modern twist on risotto. Not to be confused with Burghul
Halaweh (halva) - حلاوة
Confectionery made from pulled sugar and sesame paste (Tahini). Nowadays, there are all sort of varieties, but traditionally it comes either plain, with pistachios, or with chocolate swirled in. People usually snack on it and it is an essential in a fancy breakfast spread, but it is increasingly being used in baking.
Labneh or Labaneh - لبنة
strained yogurt, which is a healthier alternative to cream choice. I also sometimes use it to replace mayonnaise as a sandwich spread and in salad dressings. Labneh can be made from goat, sheep, and cow’s milk and can also be eaten fresh or preserved in olive oil, as in the photo above. To make it at home, add a teaspoon of salt to 4 cups of yogurt and let it strain in a cheesecloth for at least 24 hours. The more you leave it, the firmer it becomes, until it reaches the consistency of a block of cream cheese. The firm Labaneh is usually then shaped into balls and is preserved in olive oil, simply delicious!
Nigella Seeds - حبة البركة
Also known as black cumin, tastes heavenly with cheese, labneh, and freshly baked bread. Palestinians love their nigella seeds that they make a sweet dish made entirely from nigella seeds paste called Eizha.
Olive Oil - زيت الزيتون
Olive oil has an important significance in the region. Olive trees are rain fed and olives are usually hand-picked after the first rainfall of the season. It is extracted on low temperatures and is unrefined, this is what gives it its greenish deep color and pungent taste. Although people usually recommend to save the extra virgin olive oil to dressings and dips and cook with the normal olive oil, I strongly recommend against it, simply because it just wouldn’t taste the same. Extra virgin olive oil has a lower smoke point, so it burns on lower temperature, but is still brilliant to cook with just don’t heat it like you do with other types of vegetable oil.
Pomegranate Molasses - دبس الرمّان
A thick syrup made from pomegranate juice and is easy to make at home if you have the right type of pomegranate (deep red color and sour). I usually hear that it is tricky for many people and they don’t find many uses for it, but I love this stuff and I put it on everything like Fattoush, Muhammara, Makmour (a type of stuffed zucchinis), and lots more.
Red Lentils - عدس مجروش
This is a common type of lintels used in the middle east. It has a very mild sweet flavor and easily takes up the flavors of other ingredients it cooks with and it cooks to a creamy texture. This makes it ideal to be used in purees and is used in the famous lentil soup and lentil kofte.
Salma's Spices - بهارات سلمى
Salma is my grandmother and she was a phenomenal cook. She prepared everything from scratch and had her own spice blend that she carefully created. This is the spice I use the most when I cook and tastes really good with everything, but especially good with stuffed vegetables (mahashi). Taita’s mehshi is second to none, partly because of this spice blend.
7 spice - سبع بهارات
Spices are an integral part of the Middle Eastern cuisine. We particularly like to use black pepper, cinnamon, coriander, cardamom, cumin, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, turmeric and ground ginger among others. This particular spice blend is used to add flavor to rice dishes, the blend varies from one person to another, but I’ll soon post the recipe used in my family.
Sumac - سمّاق
Has got to be one of my favorite spices. High-quality sumac has a red-purplish bright color. Opt for coarsely ground Sumac; finely ground sumac usually has too much salt added and sometimes citric acid as well. Sumac has a tart taste and is used to add fresh acidity to food. Add it towards the end of cooking, because the longer it gets bitter if it cooks for too long. Buy in small quantities and sprinkle it on Hummus, Falafel, Fattoush, eggplants, Labaneh, Feta cheese, and everything else! Also used to cook the popular Palestinian Musakhan and is in every Za’atar blend.
Tahini - طحينة
Sesame paste is a major component of middle eastern cuisine. It is used alone as a dip after thinning it with water and lemon juice or added to Hummus, Mutabbal. Also, the main component in halva. It is also very popular accompanying Falafel and many seafood dishes.
Za’atar - زعتر
In Arabic, can also means thyme, but is used to refer to a blend of thyme, sumac, olive oil, and sesame seeds. Some people like to add other spices to it such as ground coriander and cumin, but the ingredients mentioned above are the only ingredients used in the original recipe. Thyme in the Middle East is different than the thyme found in North America and Europe, but oregano is a great substitute. I often read recipes that call for the addition of thyme and marjoram. Though this would definitely taste good, it wouldn’t taste like Za’atar.
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