I enjoy some Middle Eastern foods, but as far as preparing authentic dishes myself, I can’t say I have a big Middle Eastern selection in my personal repertoire. Like many people I know, I have made hummus and I have toasted pita bread to make my own chips…not much else.
Many years ago, when I landed my first ‘real’ job I made a good friend that was of Middle Eastern heritage…not yet a U.S. citizen when we first met. He taught me how to make baklava…if you can perfect only one Middle Eastern recipe, believe me, this is the one to perfect!
I was thrilled to learn how to make an authentic baklava and for many years this became my ‘go to’ dessert to make and bring to parties and holiday gatherings.
Like the cool discovery of baklava with my friend long ago, a recent discovery with a new friend has gotten me excited once again about Middle Eastern flavors. This time, the motivation was a gift of a Middle Eastern spice called saffron from this friend’s native country…the largest producer of the spice. Most people have heard of saffron, but I don’t think many know exactly what it is. Saffron is the dried stigmas of the saffron crocus. And because these stigmas need to be collected by hand, and only a few are contained in each individual flower, saffron is the most expensive spice in the world!
I discovered rosewater as an ingredient for the first time when I learned to make baklava. Now in much the same way, I am exploring saffron and cardamom ….and using these flavors in combinations with additional Middle Eastern flavors of the rosewater and pistachios. Using these flavors in various combinations and recipes really illustrates to me that there is so much more to Middle Eastern cuisine than just hummus and baklava.
One of my favorite recipes is the one I found for Persian Love Cake from a 2005 issue of Bon Appetit (aah, the beauty of the internet!). This cake really embraces a subtle saffron flavor as well as cardamom, rosewater, and pistachio. It is so wonderfully delicious, it was gone – devoured by my family – before I could even finish making the candied rose petal garnish!
If you are a frequent visitor to my blog, you know how I get on my ‘secret ingredient’ kicks… In true Iron Chef style, in my house we have been experimenting with our gift of saffron as our secret ingredient…recipes for appetizers, main dishes, and desserts are being explored…the Persian Love Cake is a wonderful example.
Thanks for sharing my gift of saffron. I would love to hear about your favorite Middle Eastern recipes. My next project will be using the wonderful golden-yellow hue of saffron as an Easter egg dye…
I am also sharing at A Pinch of Joy.
Thanks for visiting, Jackie