Food

Common Middle Eastern Ingredients — and Where to Find Them on Philly Menus

Harissa, za’atar, sumac, pomegranate molasses, and more.


Middle Eastern ingredients

Middle Eastern ingredients you need to know. Photograph by Michael Persico

A glossary of the Middle Eastern pantry staples that are quickly making the migration from home kitchens to restaurant menus everywhere.

1. Aleppo Pepper Flakes

It’s … A semi-dried, coarsely crushed chili grown in Syria and Turkey that’s less spicy and more vibrant than your average pizza-shop jar of pepper flakes.
Find it … In the Aleppo merguez sausage at Vernick Food & Drink (2031 Walnut Street, Rittenhouse).

2. Za’atar

It’s … A versatile spice blend of thyme, sesame seeds, cumin, oregano, marjoram and sumac.
Find it … in the hard-boiled egg and labneh sandwich (on a za’atar croissant) at Essen Bakery (1437 East Passyunk Avenue, East Passyunk).

3. Sumac

It’s … A tart, acidic, deep purple spice made from dried, ground sumac berries.
Find it … Dusted on the garlic chickpea fritters (panisse) at A.Kitchen (135 South 18th Street, Rittenhouse).

4. Tehina

It’s … A creamy, nutty condiment made from pressed, roasted sesame seeds.
Find it … Mixed into the miso ramen at Cheu Noodle Bar (255 South 10th Street, Washington Square West).

5. Harissa

It’s … A spicy, garlicky chili paste that originated in North Africa.
Find it … On the wood-roasted carrots with goat cheese at Hearthside (801 Haddon Avenue, Collingswood).

6. Preserved Lemon

It’s … A whole lemon (really, lemons) pickled in a mixture of salt, water, peppercorns and its own juice.
Find it … In the Rest In Pete’s, a cocktail made with vodka, turmeric, sumac and saffron that uses lemons preserved in-house at Spice Finch (220 South 17th Street, Rittenhouse).

7. Pomegranate Molasses

It’s … Pomegranate juice with a little sugar reduced to a bright and tangy syrup, used as a sweetener for dips and dressings.
Find it … Glazed on eggplants with spicy saffron basmati rice, lacinato kale and mushrooms at the Common (3601 Market Street, University City).

8. Ras el Hanout

It’s … A spice blend that varies but usually includes cardamom, cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice, depending on where you get it. (The name roughly translates to “top shelf,” meaning a mix of the shop’s best spices.)
Find it … In the braised monkfish with chermoula and Swiss chard at Pumpkin (1713 South Street, Grad Hospital).

9. Toum

It’s … Basically a Middle Eastern aioli made of olive oil, lemon, salt — but instead of egg, extra garlic.
Find it … Served with lightly breaded, fried Castelvetrano olives at Irwin’s (Bok Building, 800 Mifflin Street, East Passyunk).

Published as “Your Ingredient Primer” in the May 2019 issue of Philadelphia magazine.