The Middle East has long been a culinary and cultural hotspot. From the very first modern societies along the Fertile Crescent to the bustling cities of the 21st century, this region has been creating foods from unique, exciting flavors for thousands of years.
The Middle East is also a region where many great world flavors meet. Neighboring Indian, Asian, African, and Mediterranean regions have all influenced dishes in different parts of the Middle East over the years, while other flavors and dishes are untouched cultural strongholds.
Exploring the tastes of this region is a great way to discover truly global flavors. There are numerous spices and sauces used in Middle Eastern cuisine, but these favorites are a great place to start.
Six Starter Middle Eastern Spices & Essentials
Zaatar has been a staple of the Middle Eastern pantry for centuries. While the word “zaatar” actually means “thyme” in Arabic, the zaatar we use in cooking is a blend of multiple spices. Thyme, sumac, and sesame seeds make up a classic zaatar blend, with many recipes including other spices like marjoram, oregano, cumin, or black pepper. The combination of spices gives zaatar a nutty, herbal flavor that is completely versatile. Enjoy it raw by adding it to hummus or salad dressings, or discover the depth of flavor that cooked zaatar adds to veggies or meats. The possibilities are endless! Shop Now.
Take one look at sumac, and you’ll realize that there is no other spice quite like it. Made from dried and ground sumac berries, this spice is known for its deep red, almost purple, color. Despite its looks, it has a tart, citrusy flavor that will lighten and brighten savory dishes. It even provides antioxidant benefits! Substitute sumac for lemon in recipes for a mild, acidic punch, or sprinkle it on top of hummus or other dips. It can also be used as a dry rub or marinade for meats, delivering a flavor that is distinctly Middle Eastern. Shop Now.
Tahini is growing in popularity, and it’s easy to see why. This condiment is made from ground, toasted sesame seeds and has a rich, slightly nutty flavor. Not only will tahini add a creamy indulgence to your recipes, but the sesame seeds will also add numerous health benefits. These tiny seeds pack a nutritional punch, adding calcium, protein, healthy fats, and various minerals to your plate. Create a classic hummus with tahini, chickpeas, and lemon juice, or use it to create creamy dairy-free salad dressings. Shop Now.
Like zaatar, baharat is a common spice blend that brings a uniquely Middle Eastern flavor to almost any dish. Most mixes contain paprika, black pepper, and cumin, with other spices added depending on the region. Exploring the different blends of baharat is a great way to discover the various tastes used in different cities. Unlike many other spice blends, baharat doesn’t contain salt, so it’s a great way to add flavor without adding sodium. It’s is commonly used as a dry rub for meat, but you can also add it to soups, vegetables, or pilafs. The sweet and smoky flavor pairs with just about anything! Shop Now.
If you love spicy foods and haven’t tried harissa, you are missing out. Available as both a spice mix and a sauce, harissa adds a spicy kick to any savory dish. The sauce is commonly used as a condiment throughout the region and is a great substitute for American hot sauce. The spice mix, like the others we’ve discussed, is a great dry rub or marinade for meats and veggies. It’s also great sprinkled on top of chickpeas or lentils. Just know that a little goes a long way! Consider using it with other spices for a more mild heat. Shop Now.
Pomegranate molasses is a syrup made from pomegranate juice reduction. Sometimes sugar is added, but often the juice is reduced on its own. This tangy, rich syrup adds a depth of flavor to the traditional smoky and herbal tastes found in many Middle Eastern dishes. Drizzle it on roasted veggies or whisk with olive oil and a little lemon juice for a simple salad dressing. If you’re new to Middle Eastern cooking, use pomegranate molasses the same way you might use a balsamic reduction and discover a new world of flavor. Shop Now.
Next-Level Middle Eastern Pantry Building
As you grow in your cooking, you’ll want to build your pantry with other essentials. One of the great things about exploring regional cuisine is discovering how the flavors of different regions often overlap. For instance, there are many wonderful African and Indian flavors that are also found in Middle Eastern dishes. Such as Ras el Hanout, Turmeric, Cardamom, Coriander and Cumin. Add these to your spice cabinet and experience a beautiful blend of cultures and flavors for yourself. Find them right here on Nomads Marketplace. Shop Now.
Where to Buy
Finding the right ingredients for Middle Eastern dishes can be challenging in a western grocery store. Nomads Marketplace is an online ethnic food market designed to help you learn about and purchase ingredients for creative, authentic culinary experiences.
Use Nomads Marketplace as a resource for recipes and inspiration, then purchase our affordable, high-quality ingredients right from the site. It’s the easiest way to discover your new favorite flavors. Shop Now.