As an Egyptian American who likes to cook a lot, I often get asked if I like to cook Egyptian food. And the truth is, yes, I do love eating and cooking the foods of my family’s motherland. I’m very proud of the fact that I can casually whip up lamb kofta, baba ghanoush, and hummus from scratch. These are fun, easy recipes from my childhood and family food history. But I’m also someone who likes to take risks and have adventures with my food, which means that my cooking is never truly traditional. You’ll never walk into my kitchen to find me attempting to perfect an authentic Italian tomato sauce. Instead, you’ll probably find me attempting to make my own version of tomato sauce, which might not even have any of the traditional tomato sauce ingredients.
I’ve realized lately that the influence of my Egyptian background has less to do with recreating old recipes (like Sardine Singary, which I will no doubt one day feel confident enough to make on my own, but for now, have resigned to only eating when I visit my parents), and more to do with flavors and finding bits of inspiration that tie back to my Egyptian roots. I can make almost anything taste like my childhood if I add a little bit of cumin, coriander, and garlic. Like, scrambled eggs, which I make with cumin, black pepper, and salt. It’s such a small detail, but it brings me right back to my taste buds’ formative years.
One of my favorite, slightly more complicated flavors to add to different cold (and occasionally hot) dishes is this spicy marinade that I recently learned from my mother. You might be familiar with dukkah, which is a dry blend of Egyptian spices typically used as or on a dip—that’s not what this is. I know that the original form of this spice mix, served on top of thick cuts of tomatoes, originally came from my grandmother. She used to make it for my father growing up, and now, my mother makes it for my father.
In terms of taste, you can expect a bit of a kick, especially with the heat of the peppers, but realistically, a mouth watering, savory blend of just the right amount of oils, citrus, mild and multi-tiered spice, and coolness (thanks to the mint). As a marinade, this mix can be expected to seep in and marry it’s host, whatever that host may be, making it a bit different from dukkah, which is accentuated by more of a top layered crunch. I think about this blend of flavors often during my summer days, as it’s the perfect way to add a little bit of heat to a cold dish, without turning on the stove.
The marinade includes raw garlic (which you’re welcome to brown in oil on the stove if the raw garlic is too strong), jalapeños, lemon juice, mint, cumin, paprika, cilantro, salt, pepper, and olive oil. The best part about this marinade is that it’s become one of my favorite ways to incorporate Egyptian flavors into other dishes, like this peach and tomato salad, or this black bean and roasted corn salad. If you're feeling like something a bit more simple that you don't have to cook, maybe try sprinkling it on raw veggies or even fruits (did someone say watermelon?), depending on what best suits your taste.
Egyptian Spice Marinade
- 1 large jalapeño, minced
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 4 fresh mint leaves, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 10 cilantro leaves, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Juice of 2 whole lemons
Check out the full recipe (above) for the marinade, and then start getting creative by pairing it with any of the suggested recipes below (or any other recipes you want). You can store it in a cool, dry place; if you store it in the fridge, make sure to let it warm on the counter for some time.
Any childhood-inspired marinades you've been throwing together recently? Let us know in the comments!