10 Essential Mediterranean Ingredients

Here are 10 of the tastiest, most versatile ingredients from the eastern Mediterranean, plus easy ways to work them into your repertoire.

Think yogurt is just sweetened snack cups? The plain full-fat stuff has a beautiful tang and creaminess, and is a revelation as an ingredient
Get: At any grocery story
Try: Add a little salt and mint for a sauce for vegetables or grilled meat. Drain so it's thick and satiny, and you've got labneh. Mix with olive oil and garlic and toss with pasta, or serve with bread for dunking.

Labneh recipe: Line a strainer with cheesecloth and spoon in 32 oz. plain whole-milk Greek yogurt. Set over a deep bowl, cover, and chill 7 to 24 hours to drain. Makes 3 cups. Keeps, chilled, up to 1 week.

Aleppo pepperAleppo pepper
Aleppo pepper
A fruity, mildly hot crushed chile with a hint of smokiness. Grown in Syria and Turkey, it's reminiscent of Mexican ancho chile (a good sub).
Get: At gourmet grocery stores
Try: Toss with seafood, ground meat, even fruit salad.

"Spices" in Arabic, this blend of sweet spices, pepper, cumin, and coriander is popular from Syria to Israel; the Turkish version throws in mint.
Get: Look in your store's spice aisle for Spicely brand.
Try: Mix into meat for burgers or meat loaf, rub on shrimp for the grill, or stir into lentils and pilafs.

Dried mintDried mint
Dried mint
Instead of the fresh herb, try dried for its deeper, more intense flavor.
Get: In your supermarket spice aisle, or open a bag of peppermint tea.
Try: Mix with ground meat for kebabs, blend with pomegranate molasses (below) in a vinaigrette, or combine with toasted sesame and sumac for a table seasoning.

A salty cheese with a squeaky texture, made from sheep's and goat's milk.
Get: At well-stocked grocery stores.
Try: Drizzle chunks with olive oil for an appetizer, pan-brown slices for salads, or grill cubes for kebabs (it keeps its shape when heated).

Pomegranate molassesPomegranate molasses
Pomegranate molasses
Just pomegranate juice boiled down to create a vibrant, sweet-tangy syrup.
Get: In the international aisle at grocery stores.
Try: Drizzle over roasted vegetables or salty cheese such as feta, or use as a last-minute glaze for grilled lamb chops or steak.

A ground red berry (not the poisonous stuff) with a zingy lemony flavor.
Get: In your store's spice aisle.
Try: Sprinkle over roast lamb or chicken, toss in a salad with pita chips, or scatter on hummus.

Urfa biberUrfa biber
Urfa biber
A crushed Turkish chile similar to Aleppo in fruitiness and heat, but layered with a rich, earthy, tobacco flavor.
Get: Hard to find, but worth it; buy at worldspice.com, or substitute ground ancho chile.
Try: Us the same ways as Aleppo pepper.

Cider molassesCider molasses
Cider molasses
An intense, concentrated version of apple juice, made like pomegranate molasses.
Get: Not readily available but super easy to make.
Try: Use the same way as pomegranate molasses.

Recipe: Boil 1/2 gallon unfiltered apple cider in a large pot for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium-high and boil, stirring often, until reduced to 1 cup, 5 to 10 minutes (watch closely); it will thicken as it cools. Keeps, chilled, up to 1 month; bring to room temperature to use. Makes 1 cup.

An Egyptian blend of toasted seeds, nuts, and spices, popular in Turkey as well.
Get: Look in your store's spice aisle, or better yet, make your own.
Try: Sprinkle over olive oil for a totally addictive bread dunk, toss into green salad with orange slices, or scatter generously over cooked squash or cauliflower.

Recipe: Toast 6 tbsp. sesame seed in a frying pan over medium-low heat until golden, 5 minutes. Pour into a bowl. Toast 1/4 cup coriander seeds and 1 tbsp. cumin seeds in pan until cumin is a shade darker, 2 to 3 minutes; pour into bowl. Let cool. In a spice grinder or mortar, coarsely grind seeds in batches with 1/4 cup roasted, salted pistachios, 2 tbsp. roasted hazelnuts, 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, and 1/8 tsp. peppercorns. Makes 1 cup. Keeps 1 month.

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