October 31, 2021

Why You Should Make Dukkah And How To Do It!

Dukkah is a flavorful condiment made from nuts and spices.

Quick pickles, garlic confit, caramelized onions, and chili oil, are some of my favorite flavor bombs*.

What are flavor bombs? They’re “condiments” that are…you guessed it…big on flavor! And having jars of them in your fridge makes weeknight dinners a breeze. Whether added during the cooking process or just as a finishing touch, they make even a simple dish taste fancy.

Enter one of my favorite flavor bombs: dukkah. 💣

*Just giving credit where it’s due! ”Flavor bomb” is a term for these “condiments” that I stole from Yotam Ottolenghi.

What is Dukkah?

Dukkah (pronounced DOO-kah) is made up of a mix of ground nuts, seeds, and dried herbs. For example, it could be crushed peanuts and hazelnuts, with sesame seeds, whole cumin seeds, black peppercorns, dried mint, and a pinch of salt.

So it’s like a spice blend but with a coarse, crunchy texture due to the nuts.

Dukkah is derived from the Arabic word “to pound”. It originally came from Egypt and—like most delicious foods—was invented by the poor. Folks used it to add extra calories and nutrients to their food. 🇪🇬

How Do You Use Dukkah?

Dukkah is the perfect way to add aromatic flavor and crunch to just about any dish.

Think about pasta with garlicky olive oil or a creamy potato soup. They are both basic, yet comforting dishes. But you can elevate them by sneaking in pops of flavor and texture. Adding embellishment—like dukkah—make food go from comforting to thought-provoking. It’s about creating contrast to excite your palate.

There are two ways that I use dukkah.

1. As a Garnish

The simplest way to get the full dukkah experience is to add it to olive oil and then dip bread in it. You get a unique flavor and texture to an otherwise classic combo. This will show you the true power of dukkah.

But don’t stop there.

I love using dukkah as a garnish to:

  • Flavor simple roasted or steamed veggies
  • Create contrast on creamy avocado toast
  • Add texture to a pureed soup or mash
  • Use as a swap for croutons in salads
  • Give hummus a pop of flavor and texture

When all else fails, throw it on top!

2. To Create a Crust

Breading meat or vegetables gives them extra crunch. It breaks up a “meaty” piece of eggplant or a thick chicken breast.

And we can similarly use dukkah.

Take coarsely ground dukkah and push it onto your meat like you would a rub. It’s a spice blend after all, right? But since it has coarsely ground nuts too, you also get a beautiful, crunchy crust. I particularly love it on 🐟 and 🍗.

How to Make Dukkah

You can buy dukkah, but it’s easy to make your own.

The Ingredients

Here’s where you unleash your creativity.

The first step in making dukkah is to decide what to put in it. You can use just about any nut, seed, spice, and/or dried herb. 🤔

Here’s some inspiration to get you started. (No, it’s not a recipe I swear!!!)

  • 1/2 cup of raw almonds
  • 2 tablespoons of whole coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon of whole cumin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon of dried mint
  • Heavy pinch of salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper

As you see the ratio is about 4 parts nuts to 3 parts spices. But how you mix and match is up to you!

You just have to balance the flavors.

For example, swap the almonds for walnuts! But since walnuts are more bitter, try using fennel seeds instead of cumin or sneak in a bit of sweet paprika—yes, already ground spices work too. Their sweetness will balance the bitterness in the walnuts.

Let’s do another one. Cashews are one of my favorite nuts to use. But they get pretty sweet when toasted—more on that in a bit. Try using more earthy spices like cumin and swapping the mint for dried oregano. Or you could add a touch of red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper. Spicy balances sweet after all! 🌶

Not using whole spices in your kitchen yet? I highly recommend it!

The Process

Toasting: We start by applying heat to intensify the flavor.

(1) Toast the raw almonds in a pan on medium heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently, until they start to change color and become fragrant.

You want to add the nuts first since they’ll take the longest to toast. Adding sequentially prevents burning. Also, I like to start toasting in a cold pan. It helps the nuts warm up and toast evenly.

(2) Next, add the whole seeds and spices. Continue to toast and stir for another 1-2 minutes.

A couple of things: It burns easily so watch it and stir frequently. If using ground spices, add them at the end. They only need 30 seconds in the pan to toast.

(3) Once everything turns a shade or two darker and becomes intoxicatingly fragrant, it’s done.

Use your senses here! Watch, taste, and smell! 👁👅👃

Want to improve your tasting skills? Train your palate by tasting some of the nuts and spices raw. Then after they are toasted, try them again. You’ll see how the flavor transforms.

Grinding: This part is pretty simple.

First off, let the nuts and spices cool a bit. If you grind them while they are warm, they could turn into a paste, which we don't want.

I love to use my mortar and pestle here. It’s a workout! 💪 But it’s easier to get an evenly coarse texture.

However, a food processor works great as well. You just have to be careful not to over blend it.

Where I learned this: a Milk Street cooking class and Yotam Ottolenghi’s MasterClass