The last time I had supper at Oleana, the vegetarian tasting menu began with a tantalizing carrot puree sprinkled with dukkah, a complex Egyptian spice mixture made of toasted almonds, coconut, and sesame, as well as coriander and cumin. The levels of flavor in this simple dish were astonishing: It was by turns, sweet, tart, nutty, earthy—and totally addictive. I was not surprised to learn that it is one of the restaurant’s most popular prêt a manger dishes.
In her new cookbook, Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean, chef Ana Sortun says that she and Claudia Roden created this version of dukkah for a presentation on Middle Eastern food at Boston University in 2000. The coconut was an unusual addition which gave the traditional spice and nut mixture a new twist.
There are probably as many versions of dukkah as there are cooks. Sortun mentions one mixture made with nigella seeds and dried mint. It can be served quite simply with bread and olive oil, she says, but it is also “delicious on seared sea scallops and duck, or in a salad of raw fennel and orange. [It} is also fantastic in the summertime sprinkled on sliced tomatoes.”
Toasting not only brings out the richness of the nuts, but also transforms the raw cumin and coriander seeds by releasing their aromatic oils and giving them a nutty flavor.
Carrot Puree and Egyptian Spice Mix with Nuts and Olive Oil
(from Ana Sortun, Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean)
To serve 8
Ingredients for the carrot puree:
2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch lengths
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for dipping
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
4 teaspoons harissa (see note)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
Torn pieces of French baguette
Salt and pepper to taste
Ingredients for the dukkah:
1/2 cup blanched almonds
3 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1/4 cup unsweetened dried shredded coconut
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
To make the carrot puree:
1. In a large saucepan over high heat, cover the carrots with water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain the carrots and return them to the saucepan. Cook for 30 seconds over medium heat to thoroughly dry them. Remove the carrots from the heat and coarsely mash them with a fork or whisk. You should have a coarsely ground carrot puree that sticks together but still has rough pieces throughout.
2. Stir in the olive oil, vinegar, harissa, cumin and ginger. Season the mixture with salt and pepper.
To make the dukkah:
1. In a medium skillet over medium heat, toast the almonds until golden, about 4 minutes. Transfer the almonds to a work surface to cool, and then finely chop them.
2. Put the coriander and cumin seeds in the same skillet and toast, stirring until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Transfer the seeds to a spice grinder and allow them to cool completely before coarsely grinding.
3. In a medium bowl, combine the almonds with the ground spices.
4. Put the sesame seeds in the skillet and toast them over medium heat, stirring until golden, about 2 minutes. Transfer to the spice grinder.
5. Toast the coconut in the skillet over medium heat, stirring constantly until golden, about 2 minutes. Add the toasted coconut to the grinder and let it cool completely.
6. Grind the sesame seeds and coconut to a coarse powder. Combine with the almond and spice mixture and season with salt and pepper.
7. Serve the dukkah and carrot puree in separate bowls with torn chunks of crispy baguette and olive oil. Dunk the bread in the oil, dredge it in the dukkah, and spread on the carrots.
Note: Harissa is a peppery North African chili paste that can be stirred into almost any dish that needs a little zip. Middle Eastern food shops usually sell ready made-harissa in tubes. In her cookbook, Ana Sortun provides a recipe for harissa made from Urfa chilies, garlic and sun dried tomatoes.