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