Middle Eastern cuisine is expected to strike it big in 2014, according to trend trackers like the Sterling-Rice Group and Baum+Whiteman who have it listed among their 2014 culinary predictions. More evidence of the trend is the breakout success of Jerusalem, which became one of the biggest cookbooks of the year.
Perhaps the biggest proof point is how easy it's become to find Middle Eastern spices on supermarket shelves. Za'atar, sumac and pomegranate molasses -- all staples in my pantry -- are increasingly available in mainstream grocery stores. I married into a Lebanese family, so I've grown to love the tastes and traditions of the Middle East. We often shop in Middle Eastern markets in Chicago, but I love how these spices are now so much easier to find.
Aleppo pepper, a defining ingredient in the fiery red pepper-walnut dip Muhummara, is also on the list to break through in 2014, along with the roasted green wheat Freekeh (that I've been a fan of for a long time). And of course, chickpeas are getting hotter than ever. Chickpeas have been called the new chia. I'll buy that. These Middle Eastern legumes are far more versatile than simply an ingredient in hummus. Pictured above you'll find Roasted Chickpeas with Za'atar by Maureen Abood of Rose Water & Orange Blossoms, a Healthy Aperture contributor who is currently writing a Lebanese cookbook.
Sumac is one of the Middle Eastern spices that you'll be hearing more about in the coming year. This bright, tangy spice comes from red-brick berries that are abundant in Lebanon, which is where I took this photo of sumac berries. I saw how the berries are picked and left in the sun to dry. Then they're cracked and ground into a powder, which adds a touch of lemony flavor to just about anything. I love it.
Healthy Aperture bloggers have created some amazing dishes with Middle Eastern spices. Here's Sumac-Dusted Cauliflower "Steaks" by May I Have That Recipe?
Healthy Aperture blogger An Avocado a Day used both sumac and za'atar to create her Eggplant, Chickpea and Wheatberry Salad. I also adore za'atar, which is the Arabic word for thyme. Za'atar is a spice blend -- and dried thyme is the primary ingredient -- but you'll also find sumac, toasted sesame seeds and sea salt. It's a centuries-old mixture dating back to the 13th century or earlier, and there are many regional differences in the recipe. Yet the dominant flavor is from the thyme. Za'atar is commonly eaten at breakfast in the Middle East -- it's divine on warm bread with olive oil.
Dukkah, an Egyptian spice blend of toasted nuts and seeds, is another ingredient you should get to know. It's available in gourmet markets or it's something you can easily make at home. Look at this beautiful Dukkah-Crusted Baked Brie created by Gourmande in the Kitchen.
Lastly, get to know Ras el Hanout -- a complex, aromatic Moroccan spice blend that contains cardamon, ginger, nutmeg, turmeric, various peppers and up to 30 or more ingredients.The name is Arabic for "head of the shop," implying that the mixture features the best spices the seller has to offer.
Have you been adding any of these Middle Eastern flavors to your meals at home?