Spices, Grains and Nuts
- Allspice (B’harrat) – allspice berries are ground into a rich dark powder that tastes like a combination of nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves.
- Bulghur (burghol) – this grain is available in three sizes – fine, medium and coarse – and is sold by the pound. Use the correct size specified in the recipe.
- Chick peas – round legumes used to make hummus. These are an essential ingredient in many foods.
- Cinnamon – dried cinnamon can be found either ground or in sticks. Sticks are useful in sugar syrups or stews with prunes. I tend to use cinnamon to compliment allspice when seasoning raw meats.
- Coriander (kisebrah) – nutty flavored spice made from dried seeds of the cilantro flower.
- Cumin (kamoon) – a main ingredient in Syrian cooking, this ground spice comes from a plant native to the Nile Valley.
- Lentils – red and brown lentils are used in soups and rice dishes.
- Mint – dried, fresh and ground – used in stews and other cooked dishes.
- Nuts – keep walnuts, almonds, pistachios and pine nuts (snobar) in the freezer.
- Paprika – is made from finely ground sweet red bell peppers.
- Parsley – although flat leaf has more flavor, many Sephardim prefer the curly leaf parsley.
- Rice – store both long grain and converted rice in your pantry. Certain recipes call for different types of rice.
- Salt – keep Kosher (coarse) and table salt on hand at all times.
- Semolina (smead) – a pale yellow flour. It is an essential ingredient mixed with flour.
- Sesame Seeds (simson) – add a nutty flavor to savory foods and pastries and are used as a garnish.
- Sugar – granulated sugar is used in baking.
- Zaa’tar – a combination of thyme, sumac, marjoram. A very traditional Middle Eastern seasoning. It comes in differnt forms depending on the country. It can be used mixed with some olive oil as a dip for bread, or seasoning on chicken or meat, or toasted on a pita.
Dried Fruits, Pastes and Sauces
- Apricots – Use prepackaged apricots as they are softer and moister than loose apricots.
- Dates (Adjwah) – dried Medjool are preferred because they are more moist. We recommend buying them pitted.
- Prunes – Dried prunes are often used in stews.
- Rose or orange blossom water – used in pastry
- Tahini – is a sesame paste used as a sauce on falafel or mixed with hummus.
- Tamarind paste (temerhindy or Oot) – a paste made from cooking the pulp of the tamarind fruit, straining it and then simmering it until thick. The flavor is rich and tart and this lasts in your refrigerator for years.
Fruits and Vegetables
- Herbs – parsley, dill and mint
- Eggplant – the pulp is used in dips and spreads.
- Fruit – whatever is in season
- Kerby or Persian Cucumbers (or other types of cucumber)
- Peppers – green and red
- Potatoes – red and brown
- Tomatoes – cherry, grape, roma, beefsteak (in season)
- Pita or pocket bread is a staple of any Mediterranean kitchen. It is used for dipping and sandwiches, and best if bought and used daily, but can be stored in the freezer and toasted.
- Cheeses – there are several cheeses usually kept in a Mediterranean pantry. Muenster, mozzarella, white cheese, string cheese and keshkevan (salty hard cheese) are essential.
- Grape leaves – remove them from the brine and soak in cold water for 15 minutes before using.
- Matzo meal – used year round like bread crumbs in meatballs, and crusts.
- Oil – keep vegetable and olive oil on hand.
- Phyllo dough – a paper- thin dough is used for pastry and other delights. Buy fresh just before using it.
- Puff pastry dough – buy frozen and store. Easy to use in making hor d’oeurves, desserts, and other items.
Photos above by Mark Greenberg