New Taste from an Old, Old Place
by Rachel Travers
Whether you’re a food writer or a food lover, you—we—are always on the prowl for what’s new, what’s different, what’s interesting. So, stumbling upon a tasting of a unique product being produced locally while checking out the new Concord Prime & Fish, I felt like I had scored a double.The product—dukkah—paired perfectly with freshly cooked
fish and both the store and the new line called Queen of the Pantry were newsworthy.
So, what is dukkah? It’s an Egyptian condiment made from nuts, sesame seeds and spices that are all toasted and ground separately. Dukkah has many different recipes and when done well it will find many roles to play in your kitchen or on your table. It’s a crumbly mixture that can be used as a topping, or tossed with anything.Traditionally,
it is made with hazelnuts or almonds (or dried chickpeas), always with sesame seeds—toasted, of course—and spices like coriander and cumin and salt.
Yvette Taylor, owner of Queen of the Pantry, produces four versions, three of them based on her original plain recipe: plain, hot (with chilies) or hotter (with habaneros). Her fourth variety is a playful combination of nontraditional ingredients like coconut and mango. Each of Taylor’s dukkahs contains toasted pistachios as well as almonds.
And where did she find dukkah and fall in love? In New Zealand, where dukkah is used as a crust for lamb or pork, or for dipping with bread and olive oil at wine tastings. For two years she worked as marketing and events manager for Kemblefield EstateWinery, an American- owned winery in New Zealand, where dukkah was present at every
Oddly enough, this Egyptian condiment seems to have come to the United States via Australia and New Zealand, an interesting side trip from the standard spice route.
Taylor is the first on the East Coast to produce this new-to-us condiment. But two local chefs have been using dukkah since their own individual discoveries of the dusty-looking light brown mixture. Jody Adams got turned on to it at a cooking event in Iceland, where she followed an Australian chef who left his version of dukkah on the table along with salt, pepper and olive oil. She brought dukkah back to Cambridge and started putting it on everything.
Ana Sortun used dukkah on her first Oleana menu in a dish that remains after all these years: spicy carrot purée and Egyptian spice mix. Her roughly chopped carrots studded with harissa and then partially puréed is presented with a smattering of an underwhelming-looking sprinkle of a nut and spice mixture. In the current vernacular—omg!
This simple but provocative presentation of carrots is fabulous!
The dukkah road for chefs Jody Adams, Ana Sortun and entrepreneur Yvette Taylor all actually lead back to Claudia Roden’s landmark New Book of Middle Eastern Food. It seems to have been one of those collective consciousness moments. Adams says, “I think it’s like the perfect storm of spice flavors if it’s done right.”
That was YvetteTaylor’s experience, and when she brought her Queen of the Pantry dukkahs to the farmer’s market in Natick in the summer of 2006, she found the public’s response equally positive. This experience inspired her to scale up her recipes for large quantity production. At that time she began working out of theWesternMassachusetts Food Processing Center in Greenfield. “It’s a community development corporation,” explains Taylor who did the test batches, developed the packaging with a designer and put her product out into the marketplace herself.
Try a few different ways of serving dukkah and you will be hooked. Personally, I find the most common and addictive combo is high-grade extra-virgin olive oil, great crusty bread and either a sprinkle or a dip into dukkah. I also recommend oven roasting cauliflower flowerets with olive oil and sea salt, then when it’s nicely caramelized, sprinkling
the top with dukkah.
Basically anything you might eat with dukkah can make a meal—just add a fresh local green salad and a glass of wine. It has that much impact and is that simple.
To purchase Yvette’s dukkah go to her website queenofthepantry.com to find your nearest retailer.
Rachel Travers is a freelance food, travel, and lifestyle writer who contributes regularly to the Boston Globe and Edible Boston, as well as many other regional, national, and online venues. She can be reached at alphasoup2@ aol.com.