Spicing it Up
We all know spice adds flavor to food…even its absence is noticed. (I’ve heard that salt is the only ingredient that can spoil a dish if left out!) But do we really use spices to their fullest?
Uses for spices in Middle Eastern cuisine extend beyond just adding flavor; they are also commonly used medicinally, both to treat and prevent ailments. Ginger tonic is thought to alleviate nausea, clove is believed to relieve toothaches, and it’s no coincidence that cumin is found in every dish containing legumes (including hummus and falafel), as cumin aids digestion.
Spices are also used to show hospitality; for example, cardamom, a very expensive spice, is typically added to Turkish coffee. (Incidentally, there are a couple other interesting reasons that cardamom is added to coffee – it makes the brew even more aromatic, and it’s also thought to decrease caffeine’s effect on the body by acting as a diuretic to flush the system.)
Of course Middle Eastern cuisine is renowned for its spice blends. Combinations like 5, 7, and 9-Spice Mix, Za’atar, and Ras el Hanout lend unique flavor and aroma to dishes, and familiar spices are used in unfamiliar ways. Cinnamon and nutmeg are added to savory dishes and ground sour cherry pit (mahlab) is added to desserts, like cherry sauce…and it works!
What are some of your favorite spices or spice blends?
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Faith’s love for Middle Eastern culture and cuisine was sparked when she first traveled there after marrying; since then, she’s been back three times and has written a cookbook on Middle Eastern food, which is being published this fall by Tuttle Publishing. She blogs at An Edible Mosaic where she likes to share updated classic American recipes and international favorites, with emphasis on seasonal dishes and tantalizing food photography.
Photo by Mohini Patel Glanz
Food, we love you.