Egyptian Duqqah to accompany a martini

Ground nuts, herbs and spices served with bread and some good quality oil.  

 I was born in a town in Scotland called Alexandria. It subsequently says Alexandria as my place of birth in my passport, which in turn has led to some interesting questioning by customs and security personnel at various airports I’ve visited in the Middle East.

“Are you Egyptian?”

“I will be whatever you want me to be, so long as you let me past your security desk and into your beautiful country that I have not yet had the chance to see yet thank you.”

I’ve always been drawn to Egypt, old and new. It’s such a fascinating country and while it faces many troubles today I can’t help think that it has faced worse in the past and should therefore be able to cope in the long-run (Inshallah). Whether or not you’re a fan of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi I wish him all the best luck in doing the right thing for the country.

Anyway, I digress. I am delighted to include Egypt in my blog with a contribution to the martini world.

  
Here is some Duqqah (دقة).

As a linguistic side note it is also spelt Dukka or Duqqa, although I have always preferred using the ta-marbutah ة and the correct transliteration of the letter ق – just to be absolutely clear!

However you spell it, the name comes from the Arabic verb ‘to pound’ and contains a coarsely ground selection of nuts (usually hazelnuts but also pistachios, almonds and cashews), sesame seeds and a selection of herbs and spices such as coriander seeds, chilli and/or cumin for example, although this can all be varied to taste.  

To eat it dip some bread into some good quality olive oil then dip it into the duqqah mixture to coat it.

For my recipe I lacked hazelnuts, so I made it as follows:

  • 8 pistachio nuts
  • 1 teaspoon black sesame seeds
  • 4 peanuts
  • Pinch of sunflower seeds
  • Pinch of flaked almonds
  • Pinch of cumin seeds
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • Smidgen of pepper
  • Pinch of chilli powder
  • Pinch of turmeric

  
I roughly ground it with a mortar and pestle (but not too much) then served it with pitta bread and a small dish of extra virgin olive oil.

  
This serves two people.

However you can alter the quantities and the ingredients to suit your taste. The varieties are as numerous as Cairo traffic violations. You can even buy it in some supermarkets.

  
And if you were wondering about martinis… the answer is “yes”.

Of course it will go with a martini. However, by eating it, somewhat messily, with ones hands and oily bread, this isn’t perhaps the most elegant martini accompaniment. Save it for when you’re having a drink with more intimate company, not a first martini date. Don’t be deterred though, it’s tasty and interesting with a bit of bite.

  

South African biltong

I love most foods that are raw, pickled or cured (with the exception of tinned tuna). A lot of them lend themselves very well to being a good martini accompaniment.

 
Enter the biltong. Usually (but not exclusively) made from beef, seasoned and dried in blocks, this South African delicacy was born out of hardy necessity to preserve meat, often ahead of long journeys into the interior of the country during early colonial days. The meat is normally cured with vinegar, herbs and spices before being dried to preserve it. It is similar to beef jerky but thicker and with a slightly more complex flavour.

 
I have cousins from South Africa who recently held a birthday barbecue (a braai). Served up on a magnificent, specialised chopping device was a block of biltong. You chop off a slice, which in itself adds a little bit of grandiose ceremony to the process, unlike jerky which you would simply pull out of a packet.

 
Slowly chew the meat with an accompanying drink, savouring the flavour and texture. Remind yourself that you are living a far cry lifestyle away from the hardships endured by biltong’s initial creators as they helped found a new nation.

The martini from Tanzania (aka the Serengetini)

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My friend brought me some Konyagi back from Tanzania. Konyagi is a local spirit made in Tanzania that resembles something between gin and vodka. It’s a clear spirit with less juniper or other herbs. It’s also sold in plastic bags which adds to the novelty.

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Obviously my first thought was “how do I make a martini out of this?”

So I put the konyagi in the freezer for a few days. It didn’t freeze: it’s quite strong. I then poured it as if it were a classic gin martini, although I poured the konyagi before the vermouth because I wanted to taste it “raw” to begin with out of curiosity. It was strong.

I then added vermouth to taste, lemon oil and garnished it with a nasturtium (a fiery, edible flower you can grow in your garden).

I was delighted with this East African slant on an old classic.

However, one Tanzanian warned me that it could make me go blind. One of my other friends also found the martini a little bit strong and dubbed it The Serenget-me-to-a-hospital… I’ll leave it to you to decide. If you ever visit Tanzania, or if you live there, you know what to do!

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