“True gastronomy is making the most of what is available, however modest.” (Claudia Roden)
Roden brings together recipes to create cultural stories of the people who live them. In “A Book of Middle Eastern Food” (1968) she writes dukkah is “a very personal and individual mixture”.
Dukkah (pronounced DOO-kah) is an Egyptian spice blend.
The name comes from the Egyptian Arabic word “to crush” or “to pound.” I’ve been in love with this condiment since we met over drinks in a sweet restaurant in Maine.
Traditionally, this fragrant combination of spices is made by crushing or pounding seeds and nuts in a mortar. A spice grinder or food processor can be used, instead, use a mortar and pestle and have friends and family get involved in the process by asking them to crush the ingredients!
Generally, Dukkah consists of cumin, coriander, sesame seeds, coarse salt, dried herbs, and nuts. Peanuts are commonly used, but a nice twist is pecans, almonds, or my favorite, pistachios.
Make it your own by changing up the ingredients.
When using a mortar to pound the ingredients into a coarse powder, the cooking area will be filled with aromatic scents that come together in a heavenly chorus for the senses.
The finished product should be fine enough for a garnish, yet coarse enough to scoop up for a snack. Some have said it adds “pizazz” to a meal. I think it has much more depth. Intense and scrappy. It knows how to stand on its own and be counted. Maybe this is why peasants loved it so much. Not because it is a thrifty condiment but because it symbolizes their own determination.
While today it may be found in American pantries, served by street vendors, or in upscale restaurants around the world, it was once considered a poor person’s fare and used to season coarse flatbread.
A recent conversation with a colleague, Caster Azucar, who has a series of youtube food videos that bring world food culture into our homes. brought an exuberant response to dukkah.
“Oooooph!, he exclaimed. “Back in New Zealand we would go through so much dukkah. It is amazing, right?!”
Right he is!
Use this rich blend of spices and nuts sprinkled on salads or vegetables, alongside olive oil, or as a rub for fish or meat. Add to dip, hummus, or yogurt. When sprinkled with dukkah, smashed avocado on toast becomes interesting!
When I was introduced to dukkah, I had no idea what it was.
A small dish of dukkah and fragrant olive oil was placed alongside a small plate of bread.
We dipped our bread in the olive oil and sprinkled the dukkah on the accompanying bread slices.
At home, I recreated the experience by making it with pistachios and experimented with it as a crusty topping for lamb. The authentic version uses peanuts. Use whatever you have or that makes your heart sing.
The aromatic ingredients remind me of bringing together body and soul. Stability.
The Egyptians believed that the soul is made up of many parts. According to myth, the earth was magically made by the god Atum. Because the earth was made by magic, the Egyptians assumed everything on earth was made had magic. When humans were created, this magic took the form of the soul. As you partake of dukkah, see if you can recall the magic of your soul.
This shows the finished version on lamb steaks.
This basic recipe can bring world cuisine into your home. Let me know how you make it yours!
- Mortar and pestle
- Food processor (alternative)
- 5 tbs (50g) Sesame seeds
- 1 tsp (5ml) Coriander
- ¾ tsp (4ml) Ground cumin
- 1 tsp (5ml) Fennel
- ½ tsp (2ml) Sea salt
- ¼ tsp (1.25 ml) Allspice mixture
- 1 cup (100g) Shelled pistachios
- Over low heat, in a medium-size skillet, lightly toast sesame seeds, fennel seeds, and spices. Allow cooling. Toasting releases the essence of the seeds and spices.
- Pound (dukkah means "to pound") the seeds with a mortar and pestle. Go for a coarse powder. Not chunky. Add the sea salt and crushed black pepper. Combine all of these ingredients.
- Wipe out the skillet and over low heat, lightly toast the pistachios just to the point of a golden hue, but not brown. You want to just release the notes of the nuts. Allow cooling.
- Pound the pistachios into coarse, rough sand. You don't want them to be a powder. You want to retain their character in a manner that will blend well with the other ingredients, yet also stand out on their own.
- Now add pistachios to the first mixture. Store dukkah in an airtight container where it's cool. Nuts contain oils that can go rancid, so store no longer than 6 months or freeze for up to a year.