Exotic Spices: Part Two

Welcome to the second instalment of our Exotic spice series, featuring spices of Middle Eastern origin. This family of spices are known for being fragrant, flavoursome and coarse in texture.

Origin and recommended cooking methods

Za ‘atar 

A blend of Middle Eastern speciality herbs, ground sumac, sesame seeds and sea salt. The blends vary from region to region, but, generally, the flavor is herbal and nutty. This versatile spice can be mixed with olive oil to make a dip for pita breads, mixed into dough or on sprinkled on top of bread before it goes in the oven. Za’atar can also be used to encrust meats before roasting, or vegetables such as eggplant, zucchini, carrots and parsnips before grilling.

Pumpkin and Za’atar Hummus


450 g pumpkin, peeled and seeds removed

4 Tbsp olive oil

3 garlic cloves, crushed

3 Tbsp lemon juice

1 Tbsp za’atar spice

3 tsp cumin, ground

2 Tbsp tahini

2 Tbsp pumpkin seeds, toasted


Preheat the oven to 200° C. Dice pumpkin and place in a large roasting dish. Drizzle with olive oil and roast for about 35 minutes until tender. Remove from the oven and leave to cool. In a bowl, roughly mash the cooled pumpkin with a fork. Add the garlic, lemon juice, za’atar, cumin and half the tahini, combine well, and season. Place in a serving dish.


Drizzle with the remaining tahini and sprinkle with toasted pumpkin seeds.


 An Egyptian speciality spice blend, mixed with sesame seeds. It is typically used as a dipping spice mixed with olive oil for warm pita breads and other Middle Eastern breads. Rub lamb meat or chicken pieces with olive oil and spice to create a delicious crust before roasting. Also use to season aubergines before roasting

Dukkah Crusted Chicken Shnitzel


4 chicken breasts, skin and bones removed

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 cup coarse bread crumbs

½ cup dukkah spice mix

Salt and pepper to taste

4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil


Preheat oven to 180° C. Prepare chicken by covering a chopping board with plastic wrap or bag. Place chicken breasts on plastic and wrap over to cover the top. Using a mallet flatten the chicken breast to approximately 1 cm thick. Repeat with the other chicken breasts. Combine the breadcrumbs, dukkah spice mix and seasoning and place in a shallow bowl. Coat the chicken breasts first in the egg and then in the breadcrumb mix. Place on greaseproof paper in a roasting tray. Repeat with the other chicken breasts and bake in the oven for 20 – 25 minutes, until the coating is crispy and the chicken is cooked.


Serve with creamy mashed potato and steamed spring vegetables.

 Ras El Hanout

Ras El Hanout means “top of the shop” and is a mix of prized spices from Morocco, traditionally the best a Souk has to offer. Generously season lamb or chicken for tagine style cooking or before roasting. Steam with cous cous for added flavour.

Chorba with Ras El Hanout and Noodles


1 butternut, peeled and de-pipped

8 large tomatoes

4 Tbsp olive oil

4 cloves

2 onions, chopped

4 celery sticks, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

2 tsp sugar

1 Tbsp tomato puree/ paste

2 tsp Ras el Hanout

½ tsp turmeric, ground

A big bunch of fresh coriander, chopped

1.75 l vegetable stock

A handful of dried egg noodles, broken into pieces

Salt and pepper to taste

Natural yoghurt to garnish


Cut the butternut into small chunks and then skin and roughly chop the tomatoes. In a deep, heavy pan, heat the oil and add the cloves, onions, butternut, celery and carrots. Fry until they begin to brown, then stir in the tomatoes and sugar. Cook until the liquid reduces and the tomatoes begin to pulp. Stir in the tomato puree, Ras el Hanout, turmeric and chopped coriander. Pour in the stock and bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 30 – 40 minutes until the vegetables are very tender and the liquid has reduced a little. Add the pasta and cook for a further 8-10 minutes, or until the pasta is soft. Season the soup to taste.


Spoon a swirl of yoghurt onto each bowl and garnish with coriander sprigs and serve with freshly baked bread.


Rich in a golden burgundy colour and astringent in flavour, sumac is an essential ingredient in Middle Eastern cooking. It is the ground dried red fruit of a wild Middle Eastern bush. Use to add lemony flavour to salads and meat. Rub into kebabs, fish or chicken before grilling or sprinkle over hummus or salads.

Sumac and Chilli spiced rack of Lamb with Sweet Pomegranate sauce


For the sauce –

150 ml pomegranate molasses

50 ml grenadine

3 Tbsp honey

50 ml water

For the Lamb –

3 Tbsp sumac, ground

1 tsp cumin, ground

½ tsp mild chilli flakes or powder

4 lamb racks, 3 points each, French trimmed

4 Tbsp olive oil


Combine the sumac, cumin and chilli in a bowl, and season. Arrange the lamb racks on a roasting tray and rub all over with the sumac mix. Drizzle with the olive oil and allow to rest for an hour in the fridge. Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Sauce – Place all the ingredients in a small saucepan, bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook for 10-12 minutes, until you have a syrupy consistency and have reduced the liquid by half.

Lamb – Place the lamb racks in the oven and roast for 20 minutes, until golden brown. Remove and rest for 10 minutes. Slice into cutlets and drizzle with the pomegranate sauce.


Serve with baba ghanoush.

Some of the recipes above are adapted from ‘Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume’ by Silvena Rowe
Images sourced from: ‘www.nutripro.net’ and ‘www.afrofoodtv.com’

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