In the last few months, I’ve formed a somewhat obsessive relationship with a condiment.
I discovered my first jar of dukkah two years ago, on the spice shelves of my local Trader Joe’s—and decided to take it home. The next morning, chancing upon it as I grabbed some salt from the pantry, I sprinkled it onto my assembled avocado toast. The result was revelatory.
Soon enough, I was finding uses for it no matter the meal or time of day. It was so easy to fall in love with.
But, like everything I get too attached to at Trader Joe’s (RIP, Frozen Phyllo Cigars; so long, Beet and Garlic Dip), dukkah was ripped off its shelves.
And then, just as suddenly as it left, it returned this summer. Ever since, dukkah has turned into a Cheshire cat, appearing and evaporating on a whim. So I’ve learned to be prepared and stock up when I catch a glimpse.
Trader Joe’s isn’t the only place you can find this crunchy savory spice blend, of course. You will find versions of dukkah in most Middle Eastern grocery stores—if you’re lucky enough to live near one—stocked alongside, say, za’atar and sumac. There's also the option of flexing that mortar and pestle and making it yourself.
Dukkah, which in Arabic means “to crush”, is Egyptian in origin, and quite unique in its complex blend of spices, toasted nuts, and seeds. If I were forced to compare, it has the versatility of za’atar, but dare I say, more depth and complexity.
One of the first recipes for dukkah that was published outside of Egypt can be found in Claudia Roden’s 1968 classic, A Book of Middle Eastern Food, but recipes vary from cook to cook. Coarsely ground toasted nuts (usually hazelnuts or pistachios) are a mainstay, as are sesame, cumin, and coriander seeds. But beyond that, it’s kind of like a choose-your-own-adventure of seasonings: some throw in dried orange or coconut; Ottolenghi’s version from his book Jerusalem makes a case for sunflower seeds. I personally rather like both the texture of the Trader Joe’s version, along with the sharp bite that comes from fennel seeds and anise.
Uses for dukkah also vary. In Egypt, a friend tells me, it’s often consumed plain, and by the handful. That’s where dukkah’s versatility lies: it can be a pantry spice and a condiment (as well as a street snack). On the table, it’s the perfect dip. As a pantry ingredient, the textural crunch of nuts and seeds makes it the most flavorful crust for fish or chicken. One of my favorite uses for it is as seasoning on salmon; it gives it a beautiful crust without the frying.
In fact, if there’s anything that this condiment doesn’t immediately enrich, I have yet to find it. So, here’s an incomplete list of the uses for dukkah that I love the most:
- Encrust a wheel of soft goat cheese with dukkah for a surprise addition to your cheese board.
- Combine it with extra-virgin olive oil as a dipping mix for pita or khobz.
- I recently tried Chef Eden Grinshpan’s harissa-roasted carrots with dukkah and it was delicious. But you can add dukkah for a twist to any basic roasted veggie recipe.
- Sprinkle it generously on hot buttered toast, or avocado toast (I also add a sprinkle of Aleppo pepper to widen the spice spectrum).
- Use it to give any puree or dip heaps of character, or serve it alongside radishes and cucumbers as a pre-dinner snack.
- Top it over deviled eggs.
- Add it to a breakfast bowl of yoghurt and berries for a salt-sweet medley.
- Use it as crust for fish. I like to dress my salmon in a mixture of honey and mustard. I then press the filets into a plate of dukkah, drizzle the whole thing with olive oil, and pop it in the oven till I see a crunchy, crispy crust. This is my go-to for tricking guests into thinking the dish is far fancier than it really is, and that I spent far more time in the kitchen than I actually did.
- Add it as a crunchy topping to salads like this kale and quinoa pilaf or this harissa carrot salad.
- While writing this, I discovered that Zooba, a popular Egyptian chain known for its dukkah-crusted french fries, has just set up shop in Manhattan. Now that’s a terrific idea I could get behind.