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Dukkah - An Exotic Journey

Seattle in July

Seattle was beautiful in early July.  The sun was shining, the bay was glistening and the natives were sweltering, even with a breeze gliding in from the water.

The central waterfront and Pike Place Market were bustling with tourists while many locals lounged in the green spaces or sought out the shade.

The scents of the city were strong and varied, especially around Pike Place Market.  From the acrid smoke-tinged drift near Victor Steinbrueck Park to the lingering odor of the piers and fish market, all the way to the earthy sweet aroma of coffee and pastries near the numerous coffee shops and bakeries, all were well developed and infused with a humid intensity.

Adrift in the City

After lunch on Pier 54 and then a stroll around Pike Place Market we headed back downhill toward our hotel.

Just past the market, down Western Avenue, I dodged a pedestrian exiting a nearby shop when something different caught my attention. I felt my lungs greeted by an aroma that was both earthy and clean, like the scent of distant fire and rain or an extravagant incense from some exotic locale. As I turned to identify the source I saw the sign for World Spice Merchants and was drawn inside.

Exotic Wares

The store, all stairs and slants. was lined in well worn wood.  The interior suggested a dock or warehouse with bundles being unpacked and sorted. There were barrels and boxes here and there, worn countertops and shelving nooks where jars of spices invited the curious to open and experience the intensity of their scent.  Below the main level were books. Closer to the door were bottles of spices and tables with gift-ware, blends and collections.

The look and feel of the shop was everything I aspire to suggest in my own kitchen; organized while being generous, interesting yet at the same time useful, efficient but full of texture and fragrance.  The shop was also full of ideas. The staff was wonderfully helpful, knowledgeable and creative.  I breathed it all in, deeply, traveling with the scent of spices and their creative inspiration to a place far away.

A Scent-sational Journey

Back home, in my Tennessee kitchen, that same journey took me to Egypt. I had been looking for dukkah, a spice blend included in a recipe I wanted to try.  My curiosity led me to learn that dukkah is Egyptian in origin though it seems there is a counterpart in the cuisine of many Middle Eastern countries (think zahtar, harissa, baharat, besar). Dukkah is a mixture of nuts, seeds, spices, even herbs that is customized by many vendors to a signature blend used as a flavorful addition to bread dipped in oil or as a seasoning for meat, roasted vegetables, salads or even rice.  I looked for dukkah locally but couldn’t find it ready-made.  Almost ready to make a substitution I remembered the scent of World Spice Merchants in Seattle and decided it would be fun to make dukkah myself.

With a collection of seeds found in many spice cupboards, some hazelnuts, a little salt and pepper a small heavy skillet and a sturdy mortar and pestle I proceeded to make my kitchen smell nearly as wonderfully exotic as that shop in Seattle and I ended up with a delicious blend of nuts and spices that I have been enjoying ever since.


1/3 cup hazelnuts
¼ cup sesame seeds
1 Tablespoon coriander seeds
1 Tablespoon cumin seeds
½ Tablespoons black peppercorns
½ teaspoon flaked sea salt (or kosher salt)
½ teaspoon dried thyme or mint leaves (optional)

In a small heavy skillet dry toast the hazelnuts over medium heat.  Watch them carefully to prevent burning.  When they are fragrant and the brown skins begin to split remove from heat.  Briskly rub the warm hazelnuts together inside a clean tea towel to remove the skins, if you like. Set the nuts aside to cool.

In the same small skillet, over medium heat, toast the sesame seeds until they are golden.  Again, watch them carefully and stir them often to prevent burning.  When golden, remove the toasted sesame seeds to another small dish to cool.

Reheat the small skillet and add the coriander seeds, then the cumin seeds, then the black peppercorns, toasting each until fragrant before removing them to a small dish to cool.

When the ingredients have cooled, place them in a mortar and pound them with the pestle until they are crushed to a relatively fine consistency.  Stir in the salt and dried thyme or mint, if desired.

Store in an airtight container. 

Recipe Note:  I enjoy pounding the spices and I like the resulting consistency with larger bits of hazelnuts and discernable bits of peppercorns.  If, however, you don’t enjoy the spice pounding, or if you are in a hurry, the nuts and spices can be ground by pulsing  the mixture in a food processor or spice mill instead. Watch carefully so the mixture does not turn to a paste or butter.

Uses: Dukkah is best known as a dip for pita bread that has first been dipped in olive oil. It also adds interest to roasted vegetables, can dress up a dish of hummus, add flavor to plain rice, couscous or quinoa, add flavor to grilled meat or fish, etc. One of my favorite snacks this summer is a slice of toasted bread, or even a flatbread cracker, smothered in hummus, topped with a sliced tomato fresh from the garden, and then dusted with a spoonful of dukkah.



Rebecca @ It's Not Easy Eating Green said...

I recently had dukkah at a restaurant and LOVED it. Thanks for the recipe; it looks great.

Kathy Walker said...

Sounds wonderful! I love Seattle! And...the Spice Market. Sounds like you did bring it home to your kitchen. I am going to have to try your lunch! Yum.

Anonymous said...

Yes, "the bluest skies you've ever seen" are definitely in Seattle--from about July 5th to early October that is:)
I have never heard of dukkah before but it sounds interesting (and wonderfully fragrant)! Love mid Eastern cuisine.