Mix master: Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes for cooking with spice mixes (2024)

I know there’s a difference between black and white sesame seeds – the black seeds are unhulled and aren’t quite as nutty as the white – but the reason I often sprinkle both on a dish has less to do with taste and more to do with the way the two look together. Against certain backgrounds – cubes of white tofu, say, or a beige rice – it’s the black sesame seeds that help make a dish attractive and tempting. It’s what happens when two (or more) ingredients combine to produce a result that is more than their sum.

Likewise, I know there’s a difference between a violin and a viola, though my credentials for explaining that are are far less apparent. What I do know, however, is that Mozart’s duo for the two instruments is a very special interplay between similar-but-different instruments, working off each other to great effect. Let’s not stretch the culinary-musical analogy too far, though (I wouldn’t dream of suggesting that a sprinkle of sesame seeds on a dish belongs on the same planet as a Mozart duo). Suffice to say, this sort of interplay is why I adore seed, spice and herb mixes, which often use pretty much the same ingredients to produce remarkably different results.

Take those sesame seeds: they’re a key player in two of my favourite spice mixes, Middle Eastern za’atar (in which they’re mixed with dried hyssop, sumac and salt) and Egyptian dukkah (in which they are combined in an aromatic seed, nut and spice mix). Panch phoran, baharat and garam masala, meanwhile, are three entirely different spice mixes that all use cumin seeds to entirely different ends. Left whole in the east Indian panch phoran (combined with brown mustard, fenugreek, nigella and fennel seeds), they are ground in the Arabic baharat and north Indian garam masala to spread their warmth.

Cumin seeds also feature in ras el hanout, one of the most complex of all spice mixtures, which is found in various forms in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. The term loosely translates as “top of the shop”, and this particular spice mix is less a set list of ingredients as an invitation for shopkeepers to showcase their own personal best-of-the-best spice mix. As a result, ras el hanout can feature anything from eight to 80 separate ingredients, making it the Philharmonic Orchestra of the spice world. Spice shakers and music makers, seed grinders and opera singers (and, yes, Sibyl Sanderson, too): this one’s for you.

Bruschetta with dukkah egg and slow-roasted tomatoes

Use as many tomatoes you can get hold of for this, of all shapes and sizes, and in various shades of red and yellow. Just make sure the net total for all the tomatoes is the same. Serves four.

225g vine-ripened tomatoes, cut in half
300g mixed red and yellow cherry tomatoes, cut in half
220g sunburst tomatoes, cut in half
125g whole tomberries
4 cloves garlic, peeled, 3 thinly sliced and 1 crushed
2 tbsp fresh oregano leaves, roughly chopped
Salt and black pepper
100ml olive oil
10g parsley leaves, finely chopped
4 large 2cm-thick slices sourdough
4 eggs, poached just before serving
50g dukkah
150g soured cream
5g picked coriander leaves

Heat the oven to 140C/285F/gas mark 1. Put all the tomatoes cut side up on a large, parchment-lined baking tray. Sprinkle over the garlic slices, oregano, a third of a teaspoon of salt, plenty of pepper and two tablespoons of oil, and roast for an hour and a half, until the tomatoes have caramelised and dried, but still retain a bit of moisture. Remove and set aside. (You can prepare the tomatoes well in advance, but they need to be warm when serving, so return them to the bottom of the oven when you are grilling the bread, to warm through.)

Raise the oven temperature to a 220C/425F/gas mark 7 grill setting. In a small bowl, mix the remaining oil with the crushed garlic and parsley. Brush this over both sides of the sourdough and lay them out on a large baking tray. Grill for three to four minutes, turning halfway through, until golden-brown on both sides. Spoon the warm tomatoes on top, followed by a poached egg, sprinkle with dukkah and serve at once with a dollop of soured cream on the side and a few coriander leaves.

Sticky pork ribs with shichimi togarashi and sticky rice

It’s probably wrong to use the same word twice in a recipe title, as well as a bit of a tongue-twister, but there you go: you’ll have sticky fingers by the time you’ve finished eating this as well. Schichimi togarashi is a Japanese spice blend of ground red chilli, sansho pepper, roast orange peel, sesame and hemp seeds, ground ginger and nori. It’s well worth seeking out, but if you can’t get any, use dried chilli flakes instead, roughly ground to extract the heat. It’s not the same as the togarashi, but there is enough going on with the rest of the dish to be able to get away with it. Serves four.

1.8 kg rack of pork ribs, cut into 4 equal portions (ie 3-4 ribs per portion)
1 tbsp shichimi togarashi, to serve
Sticky rice, to serve

For the stock
6 whole star anise
4 large cinnamon sticks, broken in half
½ tsp whole black peppercorns
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 medium celery sticks, finely chopped
Zest of 1 whole orange, shaved off in long, thin strips
200ml dry white wine
60ml mirin
3 tbsp rice vinegar
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp tomato ketchup
3 tbsp maple syrup
200ml orange juice

Put all the ingredients for the stock in a large saucepan for which you have a lid, add a litre of water and half a teaspoon of salt, place on a high heat and, once boiling, lower in the ribs. They need to be submerged, so add more water if you need to. Turn down the heat to medium, cover the pan and simmer the ribs for an hour, turning them over from time to time, so they cook evenly. Remove the lid and leave to simmer, uncovered, for another 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 200C/390F/gas mark 6. Remove the ribs from the pan and transfer to a large, high-sided, parchment-lined baking tray (25cm x 35cm). Put the stock on a medium-high heat and cook for 40 minutes more, stirring frequently to prevent it sticking, until you are left with about 500ml of thickened stock. Strain, discard all the aromatics and pour the liquid over the ribs.

Roast the ribs for 35-45 minutes, basting and turning them every 10 minutes, until caramelised and only about 150ml of thick, sticky sauce is left in the tray (if your sauce hasn’t reached to this consistency, leave in the oven for longer).

Remove from the oven, separate the ribs with a sharp knife and put on a serving plate. Dribble the sauce over, sprinkling on some togarashi and serve at once with sticky rice.

Roast carrots with panch phoron

Mix master: Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes for cooking with spice mixes (1)

This is glorious way to cook carrots, even if I do say so myself. Serves four.

10 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1.5cm x 7cm batons
2½ tbsp panch phoron
3 tbsp olive oil
4-5 sprigs curry leaves, picked
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
3 mild red chillies, cut in half lengthways (and seeds removed, if you prefer)
2 tsp muscovado sugar
1½ tbsp lemon juice
15g tarragon leaves, roughly chopped

Heat the oven to 230C/450F/gas mark 8. In a large bowl, mix the carrots, panch phoran, oil, curry leaves, lemon zest, chillies, sugar and a teaspoon of salt. Tip this into two 30cm x 40cm parchment-lined baking trays (don’t try to cram it on to one tray), and spread out evenly.

Roast for 25-30 minutes, until cooked through and starting to colour, then remove and set aside to for at least 10 minutes: you want to serve this warm or at room temperature rather than hot. Stir through the lemon juice, tarragon and a quarter-teaspoon of salt, transfer to a platter and serve.

Yotam Ottolenghi is chef/patron of Ottolenghi and Nopi in London.

Follow Yotam on Twitter.

Mix master: Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes for cooking with spice mixes (2024)
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