Hummus Elite
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Glatt Kosher Middle Eastern / Mediterranean Cuisine
Top 10 Middle Eastern Spices

The Middle East is famous for its spicy, flavorful dishes mainly because Arabian spice traders once monopolized the market on spices and provided that region with access to just about every spice available. Spices were highly prized in the Middle Ages because food spoiled so quickly due to poor hygiene standards and appalling food preservation methods. Hundreds of years ago, spices helped to mask the flavor of foods that were less than fresh and made them more palatable. Some spices even helped prevent food from deteriorating so quickly in the hot summer months.

Aromatic and distinctively bitter, cumin is the dried fruit or "seeds" of a plant belonging to the parsley family. As one of the principle ingredients in curry powder, the cumin plant is found growing naturally in the Nile River Valley and is used in hummus, couscous, meat dishes and mashed tahini and chick pea spread.

Rose petal water adds a sweet, floral taste to Middle Eastern candies, syrups and rice dishes. This spice is found in Moroccan Baklava and carrot salad, sweetened saffron rice and Lokum, also known as Turkish Delight.

Used in meat, vegetable, bread and salad dishes, Za'atar is a combination of sesame, sumac and thyme that tastes nutty and tangy. Sometimes mixed with olive oil as a spread for bread, Za'atar is thought to contain medicinal qualities that enhance the mind, especially in the Levant where children traditionally eat bread and Za'atar before going to school.

Strong, aromatic and somewhat smoky in flavor, cardamom is commonly used in Indian dishes as well as in Scandinavian and Finnish breads. Green cardamom powder is also a Middle East staple found in teas, coffees and sweet dishes. Black cardamom flavors curries and garnishes basmati rice and various meat dishes. In addition, cardamom seeds are often chewed like chewing gum to freshen breath.

A spice extracted from Rhus coriaria bush berries native to the Middle East and Mediterranean, sumac is distantly related to the toxic plant found in North America but is entirely safe to eat. After the berries are dried and crushed, the powder is mixed with salt to provide dishes with a vividly tart, slightly lemony taste. Sumac is often sprinkled over salads or rice kebab and as a garnish for hummus dishes.

Possessing a sweet, hay-like aroma and rich, bitter taste, saffron is an expensive Middle Eastern spice due to the fact that each flower's stigma must be collected by hand. Currently, Iran is responsible for producing most of the saffron in the world--nearly 90 percent. With over 150 aromatic compounds contributing to its unique flavor, saffron is found in Middle Eastern confectionaries, liquors and meat dishes. It is also used in India and China as a fabric dye and in perfumes.

Tasting nutty and mildly sweet, fenugreek can be used as a spice (ground seeds), herb (fresh or dried leaves) or eaten as a vegetable (sprouts and leaves). Indian dishes such as pickles, daals and curries often contain fenugreek as well as in "ghormeh sabzi", the national dish of Iran. Yemenite Jews called fenugreek "yelba" which they use to make Hilba, a curry-like sauce that is eaten during the first or second night of the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashana).

Peppermint and Spearmint
Leaves of the spearmint and peppermint plants are traditionally used in Middle Easter, Greek and Turkish cuisine, enhancing meat, salads and fruit dishes as well as yogurts. Freshly brewed mint tea is a staple of North African culture and is always served in a glass rather than a teacup.

Cloves add a delicious, mildly licorice-like flavor to meats, vegetables and drinks in many Egyptian, Turkish, Moroccan and Syrian dishes. Immature buds are picked then crushed to release their taste and aroma. When combined with garlic or cinnamon and rubbed on chicken, lamb or beef, this spice acts as a strong flavor enhancer that draws out a rich, meaty taste.

Yansoun, Arabic for aniseed, is one of the oldest spices known to originate in the Middle East and is native to Spain, Egypt and Greece. Aniseed is the main ingredient in licorice and is found in many desserts, drinks and candies served in the Middle East. Aniseed tea is also used for relief of colic in babies as well as stomach cramps in adults.
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