I love the fact that dukkah (sometimes spelled dukkha), the classic Egyptian spice mixture made of toasted spices and nuts and taken with olive-oil moistened bread, refers to the concept of suffering in Buddhist terminology. It’s simply hard to imagine even the IDEA of suffering when one first encounters this manna; pleasure neurojuices begin to slosh, sometimes quite jarringly, especially with a bite of ultrafresh crusty bread (Tartine’s country loaf gets my vote for best bread in the the SF Bay area, if not earth) lightly dipped in a small bowl of fruity green fresh olive oil. It also makes a fantastic crust for snapper, or some other sturdy, neutral-tasting fish.You just want to inhale its aromas, and then its essence. One would be forgiven for experiencing the temptation to simply roll around in it.
There is no better party dip — make up a batch of dukkah and set it out next time you have guests over, and you’ll see what I mean.
It’s famously flexible — you can of course use any combination of nuts and spices that you like, but typically the dish will include toasted (in a cast iron pan, naturally) coriander seeds, cumin seeds, sesame seeds, salt and pepper, and a medley of nuts, usually almonds and hazlenuts, but I’ve made drooly dukkah with a heavy hand on the macadamias, walnuts, pecans, and pistachios. Quantities really don’t matter very much, but because it’s hard to get a feel for it the first time making it, use the following guidelines, graciously provided by Ana Sortun and her quite wonderful book, Spices: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean.
I’ve tweaked her assembly instructions a tad by eliminating a few steps in the spirit of getting it on the table at breakaway speed, with no discernible hint of subsequent suffering, but the quantities she lists are thus:
- 1/2 cup blanched almonds
- 3 tablespoons coriander seeds
- 2 tablespoons cumin seeds
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 1/4 cup unsweetened dried shredded coconut
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
In a dry cast iron pan over medium heat toast the almonds and the coconut until golden, then transfer to a food processor. While the nuts and coconut toast, in another smallish cast iron pan, toast the coriander, cumin, and sesame until fragrant. Watch the spices closely; a moment’s inattention can cause them to burn, forcing you to suffer, feel badly about the horrible waste, and start over. Transfer to a spice grinder/coffee grinder and grind to a fine powder.
Process the almond/coconut mixture until it’s finely blended. Add the toasted spices, plus the s&p. That’s it.
Serve it in a beautiful smallish bowl, alongside a beautiful small saucer of olive oil and a basket of bread torn into small pieces. Instruct your guests to take a small piece of bread, dip it into the olive oil, then dip into the dukkah. Prepare to leave suffering behind! Goes great with champagne.