Cooking Special Ingredients

allspiceThe berry of a West Indian tree, used whole or ground. The flavor of allspice resembles a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Add to meat loaf and sauces for ham. Use in relishes, sweet potatoes, squash, spice cake, cookies and apple pie.

barley—A whole grain that is often used to thicken soups

blanched almonds—Almonds with the thin brown skin removed, available in the baking section of most grocery stores


bouillon cubes—Flavored cubes that can be used to make beef, chicken, fish, or vegetable stock

bulgur—Kernels of wheat that have been steamed, dried, and crushed. Bulgur is a staple food in the Middle East. Cracked wheat may be used as a substitute for bulgur.

cardamom—A spice of the ginger family, used in whole seeds or ground, that has a rich aroma and gives food a sweet, cool taste

cayenne pepper— Dried red chilies (hot peppers) ground to a powder

chickpeas—Legumes that are yellow in color and slightly larger than green peas. Chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans) have a firm texture and mild, nutlike flavor.

coriander—The ground seeds from the cilantro plant, used as seasoning

cracked wheat—Wheat kernels that have been broken into smaller pieces. Cracked wheat can be replaced with bulgur.

crushed red pepper—The dried crushed seeds and skin of a hot red pepper, used to season foods

cumin—The seeds of an herb used whole or ground to give food a pungent, slightly hot flavor

currants—Small, seedless raisins used in Mediterranean cooking

dates—Small brown fruits of the tropical palm tree with sweet, tender flesh. They are often dried for eating and cooking.

eggplant—A vegetable with shiny, purple-black skin and light-colored flesh that is very popular in Middle Eastern cuisine

feta cheese—A soft, crumbly white cheese that is commonly made with goat’s or sheep’s milk. Feta has a distinctive, salty taste.

fig—A sweet, dried fruit with many tiny seeds. Figs may be eaten plain or used to flavor desserts.

garlic—A bulbous herb with a distinctive flavor used in many dishes. Each bulb can be broken can be broken into small sections called cloves. Before chopping a clove of garlic, remove its papery skin.

hummus—A thick dip made of ground chickpeas, spices, and a sesame seed paste called tahini

lentils—The flat, edible seeds of the lentil plant

nigella seeds—A black, aromatic seed sprinkled on bread and pastries. Nigella seeds (sometimes called black cumin seeds) are available at Middle Eastern grocery stores. If you cannot find them, you can substitute sesame seeds.

olive oil—An oil, made from pressed olives, that is used in cooking and for salad dressing

paprika—Dried, ground sweet red peppers used to flavor or color foods

phyllo—Paper-thin dough used in many Middle Eastern recipes

phyllo dough—A flaky pastry rolled into paper-thin sheets that are almost transparent. Phyllo dough can be made from scratch or purchased from the frozen foods section of most grocery stores. Allow the dough to thaw in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours before using.

pine nuts—A rich, edible seed that grows on some pine trees


pistachios—A flavorful, light-green nut used to flavor many Middle Eastern desserts. The already-cracked shells of this nut are easy to remove, but look for pre-shelled varieties to save time.

pita bread—Flat, round loaves of unleavened bread. When baked, a puffed pocket of air forms in the center of the bread.

red lentils—Tiny, orange-red legumes used to make soups and spreads in Mediterranean countries

rice flour—A flour made from ground rice and commonly used in desserts

rice wafers—Thin crackers, made from rice flour, that are used in Middle Eastern desserts. Look for them in Middle Eastern markets.

rose water—A liquid distilled from rose petals that is used to flavor many Middle Eastern desserts. Look for rose water at your local grocery store or in Mediterranean markets.

semolina flour—Flour made from the gritty, grainlike portions of hard wheat

short-grain rice—A variety of rice with thicker grains that cook to a sticky consistency. Short-grain rice is available at your local grocery store or Middle Eastern market.

sumac—A spice made from the ground berries of a bush native to the Middle East. Sumac has a sharp, fruity taste and is available at most grocery stores and Middle Eastern markets.

tahini—A paste made from ground sesame seeds

tarragon—A fragrant herb commonly used to flavor chicken dishes

turmeric—A ground spice made from the root of the turmeric plant. It turns food a brilliant yellow color and has a slightly bitter flavor.

yeast—An ingredient used in baking that causes dough to rise. Yeast is available in either small, white cakes called compressed yeast or in granular form called active yeast.

yogurt—A common ingredient in Middle Eastern cuisine. To achieve the flavor and thicker consistency of Middle Eastern yogurts, strain plain, nonfat, or low-fat yogurt through cheesecloth to remove extra water.