Let's face it, I'm a fraud. I talk about taking risks in cooking, about trying out new things, about stepping away from your comfort zone, but at the end of the day, standing in front of the stove, I'm pretty conservative.
Most of my cooking is Euro-centric, primarily Italian influenced. Now, there is definitely nothing wrong with Italian influences, but there are hundreds of other cuisines out there. Sure I dabble with barbecue and slow cookers, I play around with Asian foods, but with the exception of Pho, I'm primarily stuck in Japan and China.
I've never presented any Thai food, no Malay or African recipes, no curry. True, with the exception of Thanksgiving dinner, I'm not a fan of Indian food. But there are so many recipes out there to try if only we're brave enough.
Well today I'm going to take a very tentative step into the Middle East. Nothing overwhelming, better to wade in than dive head first I think. Dukkah is a nut and seed mixture generally attributed to Egypt. It uses a number of fragrant dried spice seeds. As you would expect from a warm climate environment, these dried ingredients keep for a long time and after preparation, the mixture can live on without refrigeration.
The key to this seed-nut crust is dry-toasting the ingredients before grinding. The dry heat brings out the fragrant oils and concentrates the tastes. Your biggest problem with this recipe is the risk of the seeds burning while dry-toasting, so don't walk away and everything should be OK. My version of Dukkah employs a lot more dried mint leaves than traditional. This is a very versatile mix so please enjoy...
Dukkah Crusted Pork Tenderloin
from delicious magazine, November 2008
2 pieces pork tenderloin, approximately 1 1/2 pounds
1 TBSP cooking oil (I prefer grapeseed)
1/2 cup hazelnuts (though almonds could work)
1/4 cup coriander seeds
3 TBSP sesame seeds
2 TBSP cumin seeds
1 TBSP black peppercorns
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 TBSP dried mint leaves
1 teaspoon salt
Heat a heavy-duty skillet over high heat, add the hazelnuts and dry-toast until slightly browned and fragrant, approximately 90 seconds. Warning: DO NOT step away from the pan, shake the pan frequently or the nuts will burn!
Remove the nuts from the pan and allow them to cool completely.
Turn the heat down to medium.
Working in stages, repeat the process with all the seeds and the peppercorns, but NOT the mint leaves or salt.
Cooking times for the seeds varies depending on the heat of the pan. The cumin seeds will be ready within 15 seconds, the fennel and sesame seeds closer to 45 seconds. The coriander and peppercorns take the longest, probably 1 - 2 minutes. Allow all the seeds to cool completely.
Warning: The cumin seeds are especially susceptible to burning, so pay close attention when they are in the pan.
Chop the hazelnuts to a rough but small consistency. Alternatively, place the nuts in a food processor and using short pulses, chop to a rough consistency. Do not over-process or the nuts will turn into a paste. Place the chopped nuts in a medium sized bowl.
Place the peppercorns, cumin, fennel and coriander seeds on a cutting board and using the edge of a small frying pan, crush the seeds to a rough consistency. Add to the chopped hazelnuts.
Add the salt and mint leaves to the mixture. Stir well to combine.
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
Spread about 1/2 cup of the dukkah on a large serving plate. Roll the pork tenderloins in the mixture, pressing down to insure adhesion to the meat.
In an oven proof saute pan, heat the tablespoon of oil over high heat. When the pan is hot, sear the pork on all sides, approximately 6 minutes total searing time.
When seared on all sides, transfer the pan to the heated oven and roast for 12 - 15 minutes, until cooked through.
Remove from oven, let rest for 5 minutes, slice and serve.
Not too bad eh, crablings? There's a vaguely exotic taste and aroma to this meal. Though I haven't tried it yet, I suspect that the dukkah would go well with chicken or fish. I'm think this meal would be best served by having some sort of sweet-sour accompaniment, say red cabbage, but that's a recipe for another day.
Well, I've dipped my claws into Middle Eastern influenced cooking and I can honestly say, you can do it, you can cook.