La vie en rose
It’s said that in the early 10th century, rose water was first refined by the Persian scientist Avicenna, who distilled rose petals, buds and stems together and collected the resulting floral liquid. Today, rose water is a quintessential ingredient in Middle Eastern homes and not only plays an important role in traditional recipes, but also perfumes a number of customs. It is poured over baklava, kataif and kunafa; and many traditional sweets, such as Turkish delight, would simply not be the same without it. Guests’ palms are sprinkled with the floral water as a way of welcoming them into the home, and it is also sprinkled onto one’s hands after eating to remove lingering smells of food. During Ramadan, drinks scented with rose water are often served to break the fast.
Orange blossom water
Mamoul cookies with rosewater
While many of us enjoy the crunch and nutty flavour white sesame seeds impart to the likes of tahini, stir-fries, salads and desserts, little do we realise that these tiny seeds are nutritional powerhouses, packed with antioxidants, healthy fats, B vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre. Cultivated for thousands of years, sesame seeds come from the Sesamum indicum plant that is native to both India and Africa. The seeds are available in different sizes and colours, including white, black, brown and beige. Several studies have revealed that sesame seeds contain cancer-preventing compounds such as phytate, which reduces the effect of free radicals on our bodies. The tiny seeds may also be beneficial in lowering blood pressure as they contain high levels of magnesium.
Similar to its fragrant counterpart rose water, orange blossom water also originated in the Middle East, where orange blossoms are abundant and are used as a bridal flower, symbolising purity. Orange blossom water is traditionally made using Seville orange blossoms, which are particularly bitter but incredibly fragrant. Since its conception, Middle Eastern cooking has called for this romantic springtime aroma to flavour both savoury and sweet foods. Making its way into homes as a pantry staple for all your cooking needs, orange blossom water is incredibly versatile, flavourful and fragrant. These attributes give this ingredient the ability to elevate any dish into something spectacular, whether it be intricately layered baklava or simply flavouring yoghurt, the possibilities are endless.
A wide variety of spices have been used in Middle Eastern cooking for centuries, including exotic blends such as za’atar, bzar, baharat and ras el hanout. These spices lend unique depth and flavour to dishes. Pick up a range of spinneysFOOD Spices to concoct your own blends, including aromatic cinnamon sticks from China, sweet fennel seeds, fine turmeric powder and cardamom pods from India, a tangy zaatar mix from Jordan and dried lemons from Somalia and Egypt. Find these and many more varieties. They’re all available in resealable bags and are best kept away from direct sunlight, in a cool and dark place.
Dates are one of the earliest cultivated crops with records going back to 2000 BC in areas around present-day Iraq. The seeds of the date palm can remain dormant for long periods, until light and water conditions are optimum, which has made this the ideal crop for harsh desert environments. And although the date palm originated in the Middle East, it is interesting to note that the word ‘date’ comes from the Greek word ‘daktylos’, which means ‘finger’. Medjool dates are known as the king of dates. They are large and have a caramel-like flavour. It is believed that eating them regularly can strengthen your bones, as they contain high levels of manganese, magnesium and copper, which are essential for improving bone mineral density.
Opt for any type of date as a pre-and post-workout snack, as they’re high in natural sugars, which are complex carbohydrates that slowly release energy into the body.
Rich and strong, Arabic coffee packs a punch
Dates are a highlight of Middle Eastern cuisine
This brew holds a place of importance in many cultures across the Middle East, where it is a symbol of hospitality. In the UAE, coffee is served to guests in small cups known as finjaan, so that it can cool down quickly once poured, so that those drinking it don’t burn their lips and tongues. It is only meant to be sipped and no one drinks more than one or two cups at a time. After finishing, guests gently shake their cups to indicate that they’re done. Look out for an assortment of SpinneysFOOD Coffees that are sourced from around the world and roasted locally by an accredited expert roaster.
Regional flavours from the Middle East
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