Off The Menu: Exotic spices making their way to kitchens

Every serious cook is familiar with spice blends such as curry, five-spice powder, and herbes de Provence.

More exotic spice combinations are, however, making their way into restaurant kitchens as chefs strive to create new flavor experiences for increasingly sophisticated customers.

Dukkah, a mix of ground-up nuts and spices, is one such blend. Compounded from coarsely milled hazelnuts, sesame seeds, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, black pepper, and sea salt, dukkah is a staple of Egyptian cookery. Though dukkah is traditionally eaten with toasted bread, adventurous chefs are sprinkling the mixture on fish and vegetables or blending it into olive oil to make dipping sauces.

A flavor builder from the Near East that’s been popularized in Europe and America by Israeli chefs, za’atar is a combination of sumac, oregano, ground cumin, sesame seeds, salt and pepper. Originally used to season bread or meat, za’atar’s herbaceous flavor profile is now being used to enhance egg dishes, mushrooms preparations, marinades, and more.

A flavoring that grew out of a French historical presence on the Indian subcontinent, vadouvan is basically a curry powder (masala) into which colonial French cooks blended shallot and garlic, components that contributed earthy depth. Look for vadouvan’s smoky, savory signature to turn up in roasted and braised meats as well as dips and sauces; the spice is currently a favorite at Daniel in New York City as well as other big-city dining venues.

Advieh, an aromatic mixture indigenous to Persian cuisine, is another of the traditional spice combinations making their presence known in modern restaurant cookery.

Also similar to curry (but typically milder), advieh is compounded from cumin, cinnamon, cardamom and dried rose petals, with some complex versions also containing black pepper, ginger, nutmeg, and more. Originally used to season rice pilafs, advieh now makes its way into vegetable, roasted meat, and stew preparations.

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