A great amount of controversy surrounds this Middle Eastern Spice Blend recipe. Okay, not a great amount. Maybe not even a significant amount…okay, okay! I actually don’t know if anyone knows this is a thing.
When I first started cooking Middle Eastern food, I discovered a spice mixture that I grew to know as Lebanese 7 Spice. I quickly learned that the “7” spices were, in fact, “8” spices and that countries all over the Middle East used this blend. So why “Lebanese” and why “seven”?
I did what was natural and altered the blend to include 2 more spices. Of course this now turned it into a “Black Puerto Rican’s Middle Eastern 10 Spice Blend.” Which left me with quite the conundrum. Do I continue the charade that is “Lebanese 7 Spice”, or do I call it what it is: Middle Eastern Spice Blend? I could do what Middle Easterners do and call it bokharat but then I’d be a poser because I don’t even speak Arabic. Shoot, I barely speak English well and my Spanish is more Spanglish than anything else. So, I did what felt right and changed the name.
A quick overview of what’s in this flavor-packed mix: first and foremost is cumin. Now, I’m sure you’ve guessed from checking out my Garam Masala Spice Blend, that I prefer to use whole spices when possible. Cumin is a spice that is very inexpensive to buy whole. Add that to the fact that you can get a great coffee grinder for less than $25, and there’s no reason to buy ground anymore.
Cumin is one of those spices that leaves a permanent mark on your memory. Once you’ve smelled it, you’ll never forget it. It’s popular in Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine because it is typically grown in that area of the world. Cumin is the perfect spice to use in pork and poultry dishes. It’s delicious on carrots, surprisingly enough. A tablespoon of whole cumin grinds down to approximately one tablespoon of ground.
Fenugreek is the spice you never knew you knew…did I lose you there? Most of us have no idea that we’ve enjoyed this sweet, colorful spice in many of our favorite Indian dishes (especially curries). Fenugreek isn’t the easiest spice to track down, so I’ve been known to substitute mustard seeds if I can’t find it. Uncooked fenugreek is bitter. It’s always best to use it in cooked foods, or at the very least, toast it prior to grinding. Cooking greens with a bit of fenugreek will leave your guests wanting to slap their mamas. A tablespoon of fenugreek will give you the same amount of ground fenugreek.
By now you should know that I love me some cinnamon. So much so I talk in depth about it here. I won’t rehash facts, but will say that fresh cinnamon should be very pungent. Anything that doesn’t smell strongly of what it claims to be is old and not worth your time. Two three to four inch sticks of cinnamon will yield approximately a tablespoon of ground cinnamon.
Cloves are another warm spice which are extremely fragrant. Widely used in most of the world’s cuisines, they’re actually the buds from a clove tree. These little marvels are fun to use in creating pomanders during the holiday season. They have so many varied uses in the kitchen besides. A tablespoon of cloves will yield the same amount of ground cloves.
Pepper, or peppercorns, are actually fruits. Black peppercorns are the unripened fruit which have been cooked and dried. Unlike the others bearing the same name, black pepper contains no capsaicin so it’s “spiciness” isn’t the same as that which you’ll find in habaneros or jalapeños. Black pepper is one of the most popularly traded spices in the world. Peppercorns are very economical to purchase in bulk. I’ve not purchased ground pepper in over a decade. A tablespoon of black peppercorns yields one and a half tablespoons of ground pepper.
No, this isn’t a duplicate spice. Allspice is closely related to pepper, which is why they look so similar. Unlike pepper, though, allspice doesn’t have the same spicy qualities. Aptly named, allspice’s flavor is a combination of cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. It is used in many Caribbean and Middle Eastern dishes- jerk meats being the most popular. Allspice is typically reserved for holiday dessert fare here in the States. A tablespoon of whole allspice will grind down to one tablespoon.
Nutmeg is another popular spice here at Sense & Edibility. I use and discuss it in this recipe and in this one, too. I won’t bore you with more talk except to say that it takes half a nutmeg seed to get a teaspoon of ground nutmeg. You can grind it beautifully with a microplane like mine.
I don’t know why I love cardamom so much, but I do. The first time I had it was in an ice cream that I had at an Afghani restaurant. I was smitten from that moment on. Cardamom pods come from a plant and you’ll find the seeds inside of those. For me, I crack open the pods, but that’s all. I find there’s no need to struggle with extracting the seeds from the pod, so I use the entire thing- after toasting, of course. A tablespoon of cardamom pods will yield the same of ground.
Toast all of your spices prior to grinding to warm them up and highlight their natural flavors. Warming a spice before grinding “wakes them up,” so to speak. Much like rubbing dried herbs between your hands releases the essential oils, warming whole spices is a must. Just add your spices to the pan in order of size. This is an indicator of how long they need to toast over a low heat. Cinnamon, pepper, allspice, and cloves need a longer toast time. Cumin, fenugreek and cardamom- less. Don’t bother warming the ground spices. Allow each of the spices to cool completely before grinding. Grinding a spice while it’s still warm will cause them to become damp- bad news for a spice blend.
Once all of your spices have been toasted and cooled, you can grind them into a fine powder. You can do them altogether, or separately. I chose the latter because I was making a big batch.
Combine all of the spices together. there’s no particular order to worry about. Just dump them into the bowl.
Give the spice blend a juzh with a whisk or spoon and you’re ready to bottle it.
Always store your spice blends (homemade or not) in airtight jars. Make sure to keep them in a cool, dry environment. Over your stove is the worst place for storing your spices. The fluctuations in heat rob the spices of their pungency and may lead to bacterial growth. The pantry, or a cabinet away from the stove is perfect. This blend will keep for up to six months under the right storage conditions. All you need to do now…is make and use it! Oh! And pin it for later too.
This Middle Eastern Spice Blend gives warmth and depth to any dish you use it in (especially meat). I use it in everything from my meatloaf to my smoked ribs- it’s that good. All of the spices should be easily accessible, what with Amazon, and all. Sprinkle that ish like glitter over everything and watch your family and friends heap the praises on you.
Middle Eastern Spice Blend
The use of whole spices is recommended, but ground spices will work fine too!
- 4 cinnamon sticks 2tbsp ground cinnamon
- 2 tbsp whole allspice 2 tbsp ground
- 2 tbsp black peppercorns 2 tbsp ground
- 1 1/2 tbsp whole cloves 1 1/2 tbsp ground
- 2 1/2 tbsp cumin seeds 2 tbsp ground
- 2 tbsp fenugreek seeds 2 tbsp + 1 tsp ground fenugreek, or 1 tbsp ground mustard
- 1 1/2 tbsp green cardamon pods 1 1/2 tbsp ground
- 2 tbsp ground paprika
- 1 tbsp ground ginger
- 1 tbsp ground nutmeg
If you are using pre-ground spices skip to step three. In a small, dry skillet, heat the spices, over low heat, in the following order: cinnamon sticks for 1 minute. Add the allspice, peppercorns, and cloves and heat for an additional minute. Finally add the cumin seeds, fenugreek, and cardamom and heat for another 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the spices to cool completely.
Once the spices have cooled, grind them in a coffee (or spice grinder) to a very fine powder. You may need to separate this into batches if you have a small grinder.
Add all of the grind spices to a small bowl, including the paprika, ginger, and nutmeg, and stir with a whisk to combine.
Transfer the spices to a storage jar (preferably glass) with an air-tight lid.
Store in a dark, cool, dry place for up to six months. Use as needed.
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