Text: Nikolai Gudalov
It seems as though little has changed in the past two and a half thousand years. Spices give the cuisine of the Arabian Peninsula special piquancy, and the eastern culture as a whole - a unique flavor. Since Antiquity, spices and incense have been purchased by mariners from the Persian Gulf. Then, mainly by caravans, they were transported to other countries. As you can see, the wealth of Arabia in this regard was already emphasized by the ancient Greeks; Ancient Rome was a major consumer of spices such as cloves, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, backgammon, nutmeg and pepper. Trade in these spices, as well as incense, especially incense, surrounded ancient Arabia with a halo of exoticism and fabulous prosperity in those days.
There is, however, a curious paradox in the history of Arabian spices and cuisine in general. It was Arabia that was the source and the world transit center of spices and spices, to which the ancient Greek and Roman cuisines themselves owed much of their wealth; it was Arabia that became the cradle of Islam, a civilization proudly proud of its culinary achievements; it was in Arabia - in Mecca - Muslim pilgrims flocked for centuries, bringing from all over the world the most diverse food cravings. Nevertheless, for most of the history, the diet of most of the inhabitants of Arabia themselves was extremely poor. It came down to bread, dates, milk, coffee, lizards, locusts, sometimes fish and rice ...
It should be noted that the Prophet Muhammad himself had very modest culinary preferences, and Muslims as a whole were prescribed moderation in nutrition. Obviously, the Arabians themselves could amuse themselves with all sorts of "pickups" only during the abundant periods of history, of which a little fell on the inhabitants of the desert. However, with the advent of "oil prosperity" in most countries of the Arabian Peninsula, their inhabitants were finally able to fully enjoy all the richness of Arabic cuisine.
From spice to spice
The concepts of "spices" and "spices" are sometimes identified, referring to any parts of plants that are added to food as seasonings, creating a certain aroma, taste or color. But sometimes it is emphasized that only parts of plants from the countries of the East, primarily from Asia, are entitled to be called spices. In contrast to the spicy herbs of the West, spices are consumed dried; they are also much more expensive than the first ones. Seasonings can be obtained from various parts of plants, and all types of seasonings are used in the cuisine of Arabian countries - primarily from seeds (for example, sesame, nutmeg), as well as from roots and root crops (ginger, galangal, parsley), flowers (cloves, calendula), fruits (peppers and even mangoes), leaves (mint, fenugreek), bark (cinnamon). Spicy spices, apparently, are not accidentally used by people living in hot climates: they protect food from harmful microorganisms and, in addition, contribute to perspiration, which lowers body temperature. Moreover, most spices fixed in the desert climate of Arabia, and not overly sharp - otherwise the human body would lose too much moisture when consumed. Spices, in addition, improve digestion. In addition to cooking, many spices are very popular in Arabian traditional medicine and cosmetics.
It seems that the taste and aroma of spices is further enhanced by the circumstances of their sale - traditionally they are traded in special, extremely colorful bazaars (Arabic. "Souk"). There you can buy whole, ground parts of plants in which the taste and aroma are better preserved, and also ask the seller to grind spices with you. Almost all widely known spices are used in Arabian cuisine: basil, cloves, ginger, coriander, cinnamon, bay leaves, onions, mint, parsley, rosemary, capsicum, dill, black pepper, garlic ... But there are unusual spices in Arabia that and make up its highlight. They deserve special mention.
"Tamarind" in Arabic - "Indian date", the birthplace of this tree is Africa. The pulp of its ripe boxed fruits is spicy in taste, viscous syrup or pasta. They give a special "sourness" to meat, fish and vegetables. Preparing tamarind and refreshing lemonade. Rich in vitamins and trace elements.
The famous saffron from biblical times is one of the most expensive spices in the world. To get a kilogram of dried saffron, which is the stigma and part of the pistils of one of the species of crocus, you need about 165-175 thousand flowers! Before use, stigmas and pistils are either ground or soaked in water, milk or broth. Saffron is used to give a golden color and spicy taste to rice, chicken and some varieties of bread.
This spice, obtained from the fruit-boxes and seeds of the cardamom plant, was imported from its homeland (India and Sri Lanka) to the Arabian Peninsula even in antiquity, and received special distribution in Ancient Rome. On the way, cardamom was traded for their products by Bedouins, whose life is impossible to imagine without coffee with cardamom. In Egypt, at least in the XVI century. BC e. this spice was used for medical purposes; she found application in Ayurveda. Cardamom is one of the most expensive spices in the world.
Seed boxes are collected manually, squatting, and each of the boxes ripens at different times, so the same plant must be inspected time after time to decide which fruits it is time to pick. To fill only a teaspoon with grains, it will take about sixteen boxes. Cardamom is a universal seasoning that is added to main dishes (for example, stewed lamb with rice called cuba), pastries, sweets and drinks. The most famous of the latter is, of course, coffee with cardamom, which can be added to an already brewed drink or brewed with coffee; coffee beans of varying degrees of roasting are used.
Sesame is that famous sesame (Arabic. "Sim-sim") from the tale of Ali Baba. Apparently, the spell "Sim, open!" due to the fact that ripe sesame boxes spontaneously explode, scattering seeds. In fairy tales, as you know, there is always some truth: in real life, sesame seeds really serve as the “key” to a wide variety of dishes. Oil is obtained from sesame seeds and a paste is prepared called tahina. Tahina is added to salads, spread on bread, sauces are made from it, and, of course, the famous hummus, which also includes chickpea paste, lemon juice, garlic and sometimes some other ingredients. Sesame seeds are also added to bread and desserts - sweet pastries, honey, dates and halva.
Mahlab is the seeds of one type of cherry. This spice has an original sweet and sour, with notes of walnut, taste and aroma. Whole bones preserve the quality of the spice much better, so it is recommended to grind them immediately before cooking. Mahlab is especially widely used as an ingredient in all kinds of sweet pastries - biscuits, cookies, traditional wicker buns made from yeast dough; also added to puddings.
Thyme is differently called thyme, and in Arabic there is the word "zaatar", which means both thyme and the mentioned mixture of spices, which also includes sesame, sumac, sometimes salt and other ingredients. Zaatar - in both meanings - is good as a seasoning for minced meat dishes and vegetables. Often, Arabian pita bread is dipped in a mixture of olive oil and zaatar or spread with cream cheese or traditional yogurt labe with zaatar. Fresh leaves of thyme also go to food. It is interesting, however, that dried thyme is more aromatic than fresh.
The rhizomes and stems of the turmeric plant (ginger family) are used in various forms - they are triturated, cut into pieces, crushed and added to food during salting, pickling or pickling. Turmeric (or, as it is also called, turmeric) is a part of various curry mixtures. It is widely used to give dishes a yellow tint and often serves as a seasoning for meat. Turmeric is a storehouse of useful elements and prevents the development of cancer and Alzheimer's disease.
This spice is the fruit of a bush of the sumac family, which has a sour, tart, lemon-like taste, which also contains woody shades. Ground dried sumac, which is usually sold mixed with salt, gives a piquant lemon flavor and flavor to meat dishes such as shawarma and kebabs. However, sumy is added to many other main dishes and snacks. Finally, it serves as a component of a mixture called zaatar.
This spice is obtained from the juice of the roots of a plant called smelly ferula, or asafoetida, whose homeland is modern Iran and Afghanistan. Asafoetida is also called “stinky gum (tar)”, “damn manure” and “food of the gods” - each of these names has a basis. Asafoetida resin does have a pungent odor, so the Arabians, who still use it to treat colds and indigestion, "have a hard time." Nevertheless, asafoetida gained popularity from ancient Rome (where it was added to many dishes) to India (where it is used in Ayurvedic medicine and vegetarian cooking, and it successfully replaces garlic and onions). Before adding to food, the resin is fried in oil, and in order to obtain a less harsh aroma, ground asafoetida is combined with rice flour. A small ball of asafoetida is able to give a wonderful aroma to a whole pot of vegetables.
This spice is a resin of a mastic tree, which is dried in the sun, getting yellow translucent pieces. Mastic was one of the first in the history of refreshing chewing gums (it was used by the ancient Greeks), and now it is widely used in medicine, cosmetics, and the manufacture of varnishes. In Arabia, mastic is most often sold in powder form and added to meat soups, shawarma, puddings, stews.
Lumi are limes that are dried for two weeks in the sun (sometimes they are even buried in hot sand, so they can be boiled in water before use). They are added to food as a whole, sometimes cut in half, the zest and bones are removed, in other cases, ground into powder. Lumi find application in fish and a variety of stews.
Anise is one of the spices with a huge range of applications in the East. Its ground grains are used as a flavoring in the preparation of sweet pastries, such as cookies. Tea is also brewed on anise. It is added to various liquors, and, of course, one cannot imagine, perhaps, the most famous alcoholic drink in the Middle East - arak. Anise has more than half a dozen useful medical properties, and even simply chewing its grains freshens the breath and helps digestion.
Nutmeg and nutmeg color
The nutmeg tree gives two kinds of spices - the nutmeg itself (that is, the seed inside the fruit) and the husk (sometimes called the “color”), which is located around the nut. The homeland of the nutmeg is the Moluccas in Indonesia, which have another eloquent name - Spice Islands. The husk does not have such a sharp taste and sharp aroma as a nut, but it also costs much more: to get, say, 1 gram of color, you will need hundreds of times more nuts! This spice, again, better preserves the taste and aroma in its entirety. In Arabic cuisine, it is added to meat, as well as to numerous spice mixtures.
Black cumin, or Kaliningi, the Arabs literally call the "blessed grains", and the Prophet Muhammad even believed that they can cure any disease except death. This spice is sprinkled with cheese, pastries, bread, added to milk, water and honey; finally, black cumin is even burned with incense in traditional incense burners.