Pasadena restaurant Union serves undeniably Cal-Ital cuisine, but you’ll still find a hint of the Middle East on the menu in the form of dukkah.
Consider this a testament to its widespread use. Dukkah is a traditional Egyptian spice blend, made from a combination of toasted nuts, seeds and spices. It can be used for truly anything, from creating a crispy coating on fish (see the recipe) to acting as magic seasoning dust for a fried egg. “It has such a unique, earthy flavor profile,” Union chef Bruce Kalman says. “It’s extremely versatile.” That’s why he’s adding it to goat ricotta crostone, right next to pine nuts, and also likes what it adds to grilled octopus.
Of its sudden popularity, Alon Shaya says, “It was bound to happen sooner or later.” The New Orleans chef uses it to dress up wood-roasted okra at his eponymous modern Israeli restaurant in New Orleans, and he’s all about its ease of preparation. “It’s [made from] ingredients that most of us have in our pantry and have never thought about combining.”
In her comprehensive, manual-like The New Book of Middle Eastern Cuisine, Cairo-born Claudia Roden, a leading authority on Middle Eastern food, traces dukkah’s growing conventionalism from the western world to Australia. And it’s from Roden herself that Ana Sortun of Oleana, Sarma and Sofra in Cambridge first discovered the blend. Now she’s using it on menus across her three restaurants, like a spicy peanut version on broccoli and a dukkah crunch doughnut.
Now that you’ve heard from the pros, it’s time to dukkah it out. Follow these four tips to achieve condiment perfection.
① Go your own way.
“The key to a good dukkah is freshness of ingredients,” Shaya says. That’s why it’s best to make your own (see the recipe), so you know the nuts aren’t stale and the spices aren’t from the deepest part of your pantry. Plus, with the endless variations on the theme out there, what you put in it is up to you, like how Sortun adds coconut to hers. Pistachios make you green? Use almonds instead. Not a fan of everyday cumin? Try nigella seeds, otherwise known as black cumin, as an alternative.
Michael Hung, executive chef of Viviane in Beverly Hills, is another advocate of going the homemade route over purchasing a blend. He likes to add extra spice to his dukkah, which he uses as a flavor base, by way of toasted and crushed Sichuan chiles. And you don’t need a mortar and pestle—a food processor will work just fine.
② Get crusty.
“It’s got bold flavors but richness from ground nuts, which makes it great for creating a spice crust on a piece of fish,” Sortun says. We agree, which is why we cover halibut fillets in dukkah for our recipe, and then serve it with a warm Israeli couscous salad.
Though fish is a popular option (think along the lines of a cornmeal-breaded fish fry), chicken, lamb or duck work equally well. Or eschew meat in favor of tofu and vegetables like autumnal squash, which also benefit from a hefty layer of dukkah.
③ Use it like ketchup.
That is to say, put it on everything: It’s technically a condiment anyway. In its most traditional form, dukkah is used as a dip. You first slide bread through olive oil, then coat it with the spice blend. Sortun likes to blend dukkah with olive oil in a one-to-one ratio to make a spoonable sauce for radishes, avocado or crusty bread. In that way, it acts like salsa verde or chermoula, but using it in spice blend form only adds to its versatility. Sprinkle it on avocado toast, hummus or yogurt, or take note from Kalman, who likes to add it to his eggs in the morning.
④ Swap out your bread crumbs.
The crunchy pieces of ground nuts are why dukkah adds texture to whatever you put it on, unlike other spice blends like za’atar or berbere. Laura Wright, blogger at The First Mess, uses it to bolster a cauliflower, avocado and nectarine salad that’s so flavorful it doesn’t even need dressing. “It’s a great way to get the crouton effect without using bread,” Shaya says.
Plus, he says it even works on mac ‘n’ cheese. Case closed.
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