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Anne Elk
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PostThu Oct 11, 2018 2:01 pm 
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Foodie alert: may be too obscure and detailed for some.   biggrin.gif

Over the last several years I've made three condiment discoveries that are now staples in my kitchen; you may find them grand carry-along additions for adding amazing flavor to trail grub if you can find them: Aleppo chili flakes, za'atar, and ground sumac.   

What prompts me to write about them is a recent article in the NYTimes on the "terroir" and processing methods of Aleppo chili peppers:
The Long Journey of the Aleppo Pepper  If you find the authentic stuff, it will be flakes, never ground powder. The taste difference between them and the junk chili flakes commonly available (with seeds, etc) is hard to overemphasize.

I was originally introduced to za'atar by a Palestinian acquaintance; she gave me a jar of her mom's home-made version.  It's a Middle East tradition and family recipe variations are closely guarded.  Commercial za'atars that I've tasted don't seem as good as ones made from scratch, so I make my own and continue to experiment with ratios of the standard ingredients: thyme, sumac, sesame seeds and salt.  I'm so crazy about it that I bought seeds online and grew the traditional Middle Eastern variety of thyme, origanum syriacum .  When preparing, I use a coffee grinder to pulverize the thyme and mix the other ingredients (not the same grinder I use for coffee).  I don't dry out fresh thyme, it doesn't last long enough in my house to make a difference, and the bit of salt helps to preserve it. (I use very little as salt will quickly dominate the flavor.) Check out the Wikipedia entry for "theme & variations".  I use za'atar in the traditional way: as a dip with bread and olive oil, or on toast with butter.  As I'm writing this, it occurs to me that one could use it in making a flavored butter, too.

I subsequently discovered that sumac is a pretty neat condiment on its own; it has a lemony flavor and I've used it mostly on sauteed vegetables (lately fresh brussels sprouts), and sprinkled on eggs.  There are many types of edible sumac; have no idea which is used in the commercially available stuff.  North American sumac seems to be more common in the east; researching it uncovered some interesting details for harvesting your own and its other uses, an herbal tea for example.

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Schenk
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PostFri Oct 12, 2018 6:52 am 
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I received as a gift a small jar of Za'atar from Turkey, or maybe Iran, a number of years ago. Some good friends had been over there and gave me a little out of what they brought back.
I love the stuff. There is a small  Middle Eastern Foods store in Spokane that sells it by the bag and it looks like they mix it and bag it up themselves.
It's on a shelf, right next to the Sumac, Thyme, and a number of other herbs/spices, also sold in relatively large bags. Apparently folks who use it apply generous quantities!
Soup, poultry, pork, veggies, it works well. Not so hot on fish or beef, but that is just my opinion.

Gotta keep my eyes open for some Aleppo flakes now!

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sarbar
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PostFri Oct 12, 2018 9:30 am 
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Love Za'Tar! It is tasty.

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Brushwork
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PostSat Oct 13, 2018 7:56 pm 
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Cool!  I'm looking for new seasonings. Thankyou Anne !

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Anne Elk
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PostSun Oct 14, 2018 1:41 pm 
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Schenk wrote:
Soup, poultry, pork, veggies, it works well. Not so hot on fish or beef, but that is just my opinion.

I don't know if Middle Easterners ever use za'atar in cooking, that way. My understanding is that it's mostly used with olive oil in bread "dipping", as is done in Western restaurants with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Which is how I use it, or sprinkled on buttered artisanal bread toast.  I've also heard that it's used when baking fresh naan, folded into the dough as a "stuffing" just before baking, which sounds fabulous.

What Schenk said makes sense, considering thyme doesn't pair well with fish & beef.  I grow 3 types of thyme in my yard, the traditional origanum syriacum, and two others. There's quite a taste difference between them. I found origanum syriacum seeds on the web, then had to wait 2 years until the plant got robust enough to begin harvesting. In any case, fresh thyme is best, either from the store or your garden.

I forgot to mention a detail about the sesame - I don't know if it's traditionally ground with the rest of the ingredients, or just added to them. When I was first gifted za'atar, I didn't see whole seeds in it.  I've done it both ways.  You'll have to experiment.  Re proportions, my sense is that the ratio is greater % of thyme (by 75%, perhaps). According to the NYT article, other herbs are sometimes used in combination, but thyme is usually dominant. You'll have to experiment.

Re Aleppo pepper - it recently disappeared from the bulk spices where I shop - the Ballard Market.  One NYT reader mentioned she found it at Penzy's (Seattle store now gone but available online).  No doubt chefs have bought out most of the available supply given the situation in Syria.  But I keep hunting and asking for it.

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Jaberwock
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PostSun Oct 14, 2018 2:28 pm 
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Berbere is one I've been using a lot the last year.
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Anne Elk
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PostSun Oct 14, 2018 2:33 pm 
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I had to look that one up, Jaberwock, but it didn't help since it's a spice blend and several of the other ingredients were also unknown plants.  Could you share a bit re what foods you use it with?

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HitTheTrail
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PostSun Oct 14, 2018 7:20 pm 
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I spent 26 years working for two different oil companies in Saudi Arabia. Hot Za'atar bread and shawarmas (called gyros in Greece) became part of my staple diet. But I had to give up both when I moved back to the US. Nobody around here knows how to make either one.
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Jaberwock
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PostSun Oct 14, 2018 8:23 pm 
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Anne Elk wrote:
I had to look that one up, Jaberwock, but it didn't help since it's a spice blend and several of the other ingredients were also unknown plants.  Could you share a bit re what foods you use it with?

I get the berbere from Penzeys.  It's excellent tossed w/ root veggies before baking them at home. Or to liven up a kale salad.  Hiking it's a good addition to bean flakes w/ minute rice (like an alternative to taco seasoning).  Also an easy way to make Knorr dinners way more interesting.
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Anne Elk
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PostSun Oct 14, 2018 8:40 pm 
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I'm always looking for ways to jazz up roasted root veggies - I'll have to try that, thanks!

Hitthetrail -  Did the Saudi Arabian za'atar bread look like this?

http://www.kikucorner.com/2016/03/03/zaatar-manakeesh/

I'll bet if the chefs who make the in-house naan (which they serve warm) at Cedars Restaurant in Seattle  would make it topped or stuffed with za'atar, you'd like it.  No doubt, though, that the Saudis make their leavened breads with "natural" yeast, not the instant stuff usually used here, which produces (according to some) inferior breads to those made with natural yeast.

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HitTheTrail
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PostMon Oct 15, 2018 5:22 am 
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Anne Elk wrote:
Hitthetrail -† Did the Saudi Arabian za'atar bread look like this?

It looked similar but flatter and less bubbled up. And it was folded in half rather than open faced. In all the years I spent in the Middle East most of my za'atar was ordered from street vendors and eaten on the sidewalk or in the car. Most of the restaurants served a buttered garlic naan type bread with meals. Also, the locals at work would often order it in for breakfast so I had za'atar with coffee several times a week.

Our daughter spent four years at UW in Seattle so we have been to the Cedars on 50th street a few times. We thought the food was similar to what we got in Saudi.

There is a place in Wenatchee called India House that has ok food. I am not very knowledgeable on Indian food but the menu seem to be from the Punjab. They make good garlic naan and decent lamb biryani.
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Schenk
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PostMon Oct 15, 2018 11:23 am 
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Anne Elk wrote:
I don't know if Middle Easterners ever use za'atar in cooking, that way. My understanding is that it's mostly used with olive oil in bread "dipping", as is done in Western restaurants with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

haha, yes, I made up my own naive ways to use it! It imparts great flavor to lots of dishes!

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Snuffy
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PostMon Nov 05, 2018 8:50 pm 
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I like Ras El Hanout, its wonderful on fish, veggies, quinoa, etc.  You can get it at the World Spice Market by Pike Place or find a recipe online like this one:

http://meljoulwan.com/2010/01/10/these-are-a-few-of-my-favorite-things-ras-el-hanout/

Makes a lovely holiday gift for family, too.   smile.gif

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Anne Elk
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PostWed Nov 07, 2018 1:00 pm 
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Interesting one, Snuffy.  Looking at the ingredients on the Well Fed blog post, the blend sounds like it might have Indian origins.  I've discovered that improvising such a concoction requires a lot of practice in gaining familiarity with the taste "notes" of individual ingredients and the quantity to use relative to the blend.  I forget what I was experimenting with once, but I overdid it with the cardamom.  A mistake!  Thanks for providing the link as a jumping-off point; might be interesting comparing it with the version available at the market.

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Snuffy
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PostWed Nov 07, 2018 8:49 pm 
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From what I have read there are absolutely variations, with each store owner having his or her special blend of Ras El Hanout. I love cumin, so I tend to be a bit heavy handed with it when making my own. 😀

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