Make Room in Your Pantry for Sumac, Za’atar and Dukkah

Dianne Dillman, for the Shuttle

In March, I started the Whole30 diet. It’s an elimination diet for uncovering food allergies or intolerances, not a traditional weight-loss diet. I’ve had to eliminate soy, all grains, legumes, beans, all dairy except for ghee, alcohol (even vanilla extract), peas, sugar in all its forms, various food additives and all junk foods.

What I can eat are fruits and vegetables, pastured and grass-fed meats, seafood, eggs, seeds, nuts except peanuts and soybeans, avocado, coconut and extra virgin olive oils, and ghee. Wherever possible, everything should be organic. It’s healthy, clean eating, similar in many ways to paleo.

As a chef and baker, I’m both challenged by this and well suited to make the best of it. To keep the diet from becoming monotonous, I’ve been on the search for Whole30-compliant condiments to add some culinary excitement. All but one of my jars of mustard flunked; even the lovely Sr. Kensington’s mayo is not compliant; and forget ketchup!

This got me thinking about spice blends and crunchy sprinkles. Some uncommon Middle Eastern spices such as sumac, za’atar, and dukkah have become my go-to’s. They’re perfect on fish, salads, meats, and vegetables. Sumac is a red-purple powder that adds a lovely lemony flavor and gorgeous color. Za’atar is a lemony hyssop or thyme, sumac, and sesame seed blend. Both are available at the Co-op; sumac can also be gathered locally in the fall.

Dukkah is an Egyptian seed-and-nut spice blend that’s easy to prepare and makes anything from salads to rice ready for company. It’s crazy good with bread — just set out a dish of extra virgin olive oil topped with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper and a dish of dukkah. Dip a piece of pita or crusty bread in the oil, then the dukkah, and savor.


  • ¼ cup sesame seeds, white, black or a mix
  • ¼ cup pistachios
  • ½ cup hazelnuts
  • ¼ cup whole coriander seeds
  • 2 tablespoons cumin seeds
  • ½ teaspoon nigella seeds, optional
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon sumac, optional

Preheat your oven to 350° F. On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, spread the sesame seeds out in a single layer. Roast in the oven for about 2-3 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool.

Place the pistachios and hazelnuts on the same baking sheet and roast for about 5-10 minutes until fragrant. Remove, cool and combine with the toasted sesame seeds.

Toast the remaining seeds one type at a time in a cast iron pan on medium heat until they’re fragrant and start to pop — about 30 seconds — and add to the nuts.

Combine the sesame seeds, pistachios, hazelnuts, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, salt, and black peppercorns in a food processor and pulse to chop coarsely. You can also mash all the ingredients with a mortar and pestle — either way, you want texture. Store in an airtight container.