The world marketplace has put the cuisines of almost every country at our fingertips. This month, delight your taste buds on a trip to the Middle East with three spices/spice mixes often found in dishes and condiments popular in Cypress, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait and other Middle Eastern and Mediterranean countries. Cooking Light executive chef Billy Strynkowski introduced these spices last November during his “Taste of the Middle East” class at the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival.

Aleppo pepper. The Aleppo pepper, also known as the Halaby pepper, comes from northern Syria, near the town of Aleppo, a culinary mecca of the Mediterranean. It has a moderate heat level with some fruitiness and mild, cuminlike undertones, with a hint of a vinegary, salty taste. Use it for authentic chili flavor in any Middle Eastern or Mediterranean dish.

Aleppo offers a nice variation from crushed red peppers. It has robust flavor that hits in the back of your mouth, tickles your throat and dissipates quickly. Try it in place of regular crushed red chilies on pizzas, salads and pasta. Durng his class, Strynkowski used it in a recipe for Muham­mara (a delicious and healthy dip made from roasted red bell peppers, walnuts and pomegranate molasses). Find the recipe here (note that Strynkowski substituted Aleppo for the crushed red pepper and pomegranate syrup for the honey): www.myrecipes.com/recipe/muhammara-with-crudits-10000001988536/.

Za’atar. Za’atar (zaatar) is a mixture of sumac, sesame seeds and herbs (oregano, thyme and savory). It is often mixed with olive oil and spread on bread; sometimes this is done at the table; other times the mix is spread on bread rounds that are then baked. Za’atar also serves as a seasoning to sprinkle on vegetables, salads, meatballs or kebabs. Just as sausage seasonings vary, each country has a distinctive style of Za’atar, and each family develops its own secret blend. Strynkowski suggested trying the Jordanian blend, which is green.

Sumac. Sumac, fragrant sumac and sweet sumac (be careful, there are poisonous varieties, too) come from the berries of a wild bush native to the Mediterranean and parts of the Middle East. Sumac has also been naturalized to most of the U.S. Considered essential for cooking in much of the Middle East, it served as the tart, acidic element in cooking prior to the introduction of lemons by the Romans, Strynkowski told the class.

In Lebanese and Turkish dishes, sumac berries substitute for the acid tang normally provided by lemon. Sumac juice is added to salad dressings and marinades; the powdered form is used in stews and in vegetable and chicken casseroles, according to www.mountainroseherbs.com. “Sumac’s tart, citrus-like flavor complements fish, chicken, salad dressings, rice pilaf and even raw onions. If you enjoy hummus, try topping it with a sprinkling of sumac,” suggests the website.

Do you regularly use any of these spices or spice blends? Share your favorite use or recipe with the editor at [email protected] MealLogger.com: A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Words. This website (www.MealLogger.com) enables professionals to offer cost-effective individualized nutrition coaching to large numbers of clients by using visual, rather than written, client food logs.

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