I don’t think I have devoured any cookbook this quickly, nor this ferociously.
I borrowed Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean by Ana Sortun from the library and I literally was drooling as I read it from cover-to-cover. As the title would suggest, it focuses on the spices of the Eastern Mediterranean, based on recipes from Sortun’s restaurant Oleana in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is organized by spice group, as opposed to course or meal. I was stopped cold in the first chapter, all about the three C’s: Cumin, Coriander and Cardamom.
I don’t like curry and still trying to figure out which spice harbours that earthy tone that makes me lose my appetite. For a while I thought it was coriander, so I had been avoiding it. However, Sortun’s description of coriander had me wooed. She described it as bright, citrusy, acidic and perfumey. I knew I had shunned coriander unfairly.
I set off investigating dukkah (DOO-kah, say that just for kicks!), an Egyptian spice mix with nuts. There are countless recipes for dukkah, some with hazelnuts, pistachios, and/or almonds, different proportions of sesame seeds to coriander and cumin, with optional add-ins like mint, lemon zest and chili flakes. My curiosity was piqued by Sortun’s recipe since it included almonds with coconut. I knew I would love the sweetness, so I flexed my forearms, armed and ready with my mortar and pestle.
Once I had roasted the nuts and spices, ground them together, I snuck a quick taste. I wasn’t immediately enamored. I decided to hold judgement until I had finished assembling my meal.
Inside Artichoke to Za’atar by Greg and Lucy Malouf, there was a recipe for deep-fried soft-boiled eggs covered with dukkah and served with a side of toast. They also mentioned that a plain soft-boiled egg could work easily as well. Anyone who knows me well will know that I don’t like to fry my foods, so I was eager to try the easy, soft-boiled eggs with the dukkah. I toasted some bread, topped it with butter, added the egg and smothered it with dukkah. Only then did I listen to my taste buds. By the end, I was licking my plate as I didn’t want to waste any of the dukkah, it was that good.
They were simple sides, a toasted, buttered sourdough bread with a soft-boiled egg, but it made all the difference with the dukkah. Dukkah is a warm, sweet, salty, and slightly earthy spice mix that mixed best with the butter from the bread and the silky egg.
Traditionally, dukkah is served with fresh Turkish bread with olive oil for dipping. Ana paired hers with a carrot puree that I would like to try next time. Dukkah is very versatile, so I look forward to trying it with other meals.
Until then, I will be content to eat eggs and toast with dukkah for any meal of the day.
This is my submission to the 11th Mediterranean Cooking Event, featuring Egypt this month.