To help navigate around my recipes, here is an alphabetical glossary of the more unusual ingredients I use, together with a description of what they are, how I use them and the brands I love:
A hugely popular paste from Turkey made from red peppers. It is available in both hot (aci) and sweet (tatli) versions and makes a great condiment for adding to soups, stews and dips. It’s widely available in Turkish spice shops and at Turkish delis in the UK but it is also easy to make. You can find my recipe for it here.
Camargue red rice
In France, shortly after World War II vast swaths of the Camargue’s salt marshes were desalinated and transformed from salt production to a red wild rice revered for its nutty taste and a naturally chewy texture. I like the one produced by Biona but, if you would enjoy it with another layer of texture, Waitrose sell a version mixed with wild rice.
The small flower buds of the Capparis shrub which grows in the Mediterranean. They are good for adding a distinctive sour/salty flavour to savoury dishes and dips. I like the ones produced by Organico Real Food.
Carob molasses is made by mashing ground carob pods with water to extract the sugars, then straining and reducing the liquid until a thick syrup is formed. During that process, some of the sugars caramelise, giving the finished product its distinctive dark colour and sweet-sour taste. I use it to give a chocolatey kick to cakes and chillies; and, of course, for my tahini & carob molasses spread.
Farro is an ancient rustic grain belonging to the wheat family and is widely used across northern Italy. It has a taste and texture similar to that of barley – nutty and chewy – making it a perfect base for hearty salads, soups and farrotto, a dish that uses farro in the place of rice and is prepared in the same way as a traditional risotto. I like the farro grown by the Bartolini family, artisan producers who have been farming in Umbria for six generations.
Fava (yellow split peas)
In Greece, fava is the name given to a dearly loved dish of puréed yellow split peas. I like the ones produced by Onia Greek Foods, from whom I also buy other dried ingredients such as giant white beans and chickpeas.
Flor de Sal d’Es Trenc (sea salt)
An intoxicating natural sea salt from Mallorca created via a delicate process in which nothing is added or taken away. It tastes of the sea in its purest form. There are several gentle aromas to choose from including Mediterranean herb, hibiscus petals, Kalamata olive, rose petal, wild mushroom, orange & chilli and lemon & lavender. You can buy it either direct from the makers or from Fet a Sóller.
An early harvested green durum wheat that can be cooked like rice or bulgar wheat. It is used in stews, soups and salads. I like the Palestinian cracked roasted freekeh produced by Moon Valley.
An ancient food made with reduced grape must that is thought to be one of the first sweeteners before cane sugar and honey were introduced in the Middle East and Mediterranean regions. I use it as a natural sweetener, for roasting vegetables and in marinades.
Authentic Greek honey is widely recognised as being a natural product of world-class quality; this is because it’s made by bees that feed upon the abundant, rich and aromatic Greek flora which includes over 850 species found nowhere else in the world. I like the wild thyme & fragrant herb honey produced by Alexandros Gousiaris for Odysea.
High up in the Pindos mountains in Greece, there grows a variety of around 1,300 different aromatics plants that are often referred to as the most complete collection in the world. The oregano I use is from here and is picked by hand for Stories of Greek Origins.
This is one of the staples of my cooking and I buy it in 1-litre buckets. Please don’t be tempted to buy ‘Greek-style’ yoghurt. I like the authentic yoghurt produced by Kolios.
Labneh is a beautiful soft cheese made from strained yoghurt that can be eaten with pretty much everything but is especially good alongside rich and spicy mezzes and falafel. You can find my recipe for it here.
When you’re in a hurry, there’s nothing wrong with using pre-mixed spices so long as you trust the brand. Lebanese 7-spice, a heady mix of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, fenugreek, black pepper and cloves, is perfect for adding a deep spicy mellowness to Middle Eastern stews, soups and, of course, falafel. I like the Arabica blend the best, not least because it its beautiful packaging.
Orange blossom water
Orange flower water is made by macerating bitter orange blossom in water then distilling it down. It’s characteristic in the cooking of the Middle East and Mediterranean countries. I use it – with caution for it’s strong stuff – in cordials, desserts and salad dressings. My go-to brand is Cortas from Lebanon.
A hand-rolled traditional grain from Palestine made from bulgar and wholewheat flour. It’s firm texture and nutty flavour make it a delicious alternative to other grains. I love the organic, fairly traded version from Zaytoun.
An aromatic spice made from the seeds of a species of cherry, Prunus mahaleb (the Mahaleb or St Lucie cherry). The cherry stones are cracked to extract the seed kernel, which is about 5mm diameter, soft and chewy on extraction. Its flavour is similar to a combination of bitter almond and cherry.
A resin obtained from the mastic tree, Pistacia lentiscus. In pharmacies and whole food stores, it’s known as ;Arabic gum’ (not to be confused with gum arabic) or ‘Yemen gum’. In Greece, it is known as the tears of Chios, being traditionally produced on that Greek island, and, like other natural resins, is produced in “tears” or droplets. Originally a sap, mastic is sun-dried into pieces of brittle, translucent resin. When chewed, the resin softens and becomes a bright white and opaque gum. The flavor is bitter at first, but after some chewing, it releases a refreshing, slightly pine or cedar-like flavor.
A medium hot variety of paprika with a smoky aroma. Made from Spanish peppers (pimentón), picante pimentón is an attractive dark red colour and adds a distinctive colour and flavour to a variety of dishes such as rice, tomato and seafood dishes.
Not all double 00 flours are the same. For over 125 years, Divella has been among the most important producers of pasta in the world, always sharing the typical Apulian values of goodness and genuineness. Trust me, their pizza flour is the best because it’s so fine and therefore very easy to work with.
A simple condiment made from pomegranate juice reduced down to a thick sweet/sour, intensely flavored syrup. I use it for salad dressings and for roasting vegetables to give them a bit of a kick. No supplier needed here, it’s easy to make your own.
Pul biber (also known as Aleppo pepper)
The Aleppo pepper is a variety of capsicum annuum used as a spice particularly in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. It’s quite mild so great for adding a tangy chilli flavour without the heat and for using as a condiment on top of dips such as hummus and yoghurt-based dishes.
Rose water is made by boiling rose petals in water and then capturing and condensing the steam. It’s characteristic in the cooking of the Middle East and Mediterranean countries. I use it – with caution for it’s strong stuff – in cordials, desserts and salad dressings. My go-to brand is Cortas from Lebanon.
An essential ingredient in Middle Eastern cooking, Sumac is relished for its sourness and astringency. It’s derived from a red berry and has an intense lemony flavour. I use it to remove the sourness from raw onions and as a condiment on salads and dips. I like the Jordanian sumac produced by Terra Rossa.
A thick, smooth paste made from ground sesame seeds. It has a wonderfully rich nutty flavour with a creamy texture. I use it for hummus and in various spreads. I like Al-Yaman from Lebanon and Mezap from Greece.
Urfa biber (also known as isot pepper)
A dried Kurdish chilli pepper of the type Capsicum annuum cultivated in the Urfa region of Turkey. It is often described as having a smoky, ‘raisin-like’ taste; it’s quite chocolatey too. It is technically a red pepper that has ripened to a dark maroon colour on the plant. I use it as a condiment on salads, stews and dips.
An aromatic herb mix of thyme, sesame seeds and sumac. It’s traditionally eaten as a dip with olive oil and bread or used to season flatbreads, meat, fish and vegetables. I like the Palestinian za’atar produced by Zaytoun. I also use pickled Turkish za’atar which is quite different being a singular native herb similar to summer savory.
A punchy and fragrant chilli and herb relish from Yemen that’s also very popular in Israel. I use it as a condiment to lift labneh and to stir into sauces for an extra kick. You can find my recipe for it here.