The food and drink sector is a fantastically collaborative space. From no waste pop-up restaurants to independent food tours to podcasts, I see chefs, home cooks, journalists, PR companies and bloggers who are creating, eating and learning together. For me, this collaborative learning process is often as simple as a friend introducing me to a new flavour, ingredient or dish that then influences my work. Recent inspiration came at a supper club when, as we waited for dinner, social media guru and fellow food lover Charlie appeased the group's hungry stomachs by serving bread and oil with dukkah. And so began my infatuation with this Egyptian spice mix.
Of course, I’d eaten dukkah many times before at restaurants, usually as a garnish to complete a deeply-flavoured dish. Yet when served so simply, clinging to oil-soaked bread, the ingredients were free to sing of themselves. Suddenly, the heady blend of nuts, seeds and seeds became the focus on my palate, rather than just the final flourish on a plate. Since then, I’ve used it to add character and crunch to my own cooking - scattered over salads, lentils and poached eggs, swirled on labneh or hummus, and as a crust for tofu or fish. Most often, though, I’ve eaten it just with bread and oil.
As the consummate sweet tooth, I have also created a version to dress my desserts, breakfasts and snacks. The foundation stones remain the same: hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds. Yet, instead of cumin and coriander, the bricks and mortar are bright, citrusy notes of cardamom and warm cinnamon. A few pink peppercorns retain the subtle heat that would come from white or green pepper, but wrap it in a soft, fruity flavour. And then there is the toffee crunch of demerara sugar to bring out the sweetness of each ingredient and tie them together as a whole.
This dukkah is big and bold, so you’ll only need a little to elevate the flavour of a dish. My favourite way to eat it is, most simply, on top of yogurt, porridge and fresh fruit. It is a good match for soft, mild cheese and is particularly wonderful on toast with ricotta and honey. The layers of fragrant flavours also work well for desserts. You could crumble it on poached or baked fruit; wrap it in filo pastry and pour over syrup, before baking until golden; roll truffles in it for a crisp coat; use it as an ice-cream topping; or sprinkle on cakes and crumbles, pavlova or chocolate mousse.
However you choose to serve it, its warm, intensely aromatic flavours seem to celebrate the recent turn towards sunny days and meals eaten alfresco in the garden. Recipe below.
- 100g hazelnuts, skin on
- 3 tbsp sunflower seeds
- Seeds from 20 cardamom pods
- ½ tsp pink peppercorns
- 1 ½ tbsp sesame seeds
- 2 generous tsp cinnamon
- 2 tsp demerara sugar
- Preheat the oven to 150°C
- Place the hazelnuts on a baking tray and bake in the oven for 15 minutes. After 5 minutes, add the sunflower seeds, making sure to keep them separate. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
- Meanwhile, place a frying pan over a medium heat.
- Toast the cardamom seeds for 30 seconds, until they start to smell fragrant, then transfer them to a small bowl. Repeat with the peppercorns and transfer them to a separate bowl.
- Turn the heat down to low and toast the sesame seeds until golden brown, before transferring to a separate bowl. Toast the cinnamon for around a minute, or until fragrant, and set aside in another bowl.
- Once your hazelnuts are cool, rub them between your hands to remove the skin.
- Roughly chop the hazelnuts in a pestle and mortar, then move them to a large bowl. Chop the sunflower seeds and add them to the hazelnuts. Don’t process them too much, as the texture should be quite course and chunky.
- Finely grind the cardamom seeds and add to the nuts and seeds in the pestle and mortar; then repeat with the pepper. Add both to the nut and seed mixture.
- Finally, add the sesame seeds, cinnamon and sugar directly to the mixture. Stir together well.
- Store in an airtight container or jar for up to a month.