Using the Spice Mahleb in Greek Cooking
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Mahleb is one of those aromatic spices that is a big part of Greek cuisine, but it isn’t one of those that immediately comes to mind. Cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg are much more common. However, this spice does have a special place in the cuisine, especially with desserts and on special occasions.
Do you want to start using it? There are some things to keep in mind before you do. Here is an overview of what mahleb and how it is used in Greek cooking:
Where the Spice Mahleb Comes From
Mahleb comes from the Prunus mahleb plant, which is actually a species of cherry. The spice itself comes from the seed of the fruit. The ripe fruits are picked and the seed is removed, washed, and then dried. From there, people can buy the spice whole or already ground. The tree is native to the Mediterranean, which means that the spice is usually cultivated in Greece and otherMediterranean countries. The hard pits are cracked open and the soft inner portion of the pit is used. This is then dried out, packaged, and then sold in stores.
How to Buy Mahleb
Mahleb is widely available in Greece in the markets. However, outside of Greece, it can be a little difficult to obtain. Usually, people have to go to specialty markets or order it online in order to be able to use it. Even though you can find ground mahleb, it is much better to buy it whole. Once the mahleb is ground, it loses some of its flavor. Grinding it yourself will make the flavor taste as fresh as possible. You can grind it in a small food processor, coffee grinder, or a small, manually operated spice grinder. If you decide to use a coffee grinder, be sure that you’ve cleaned the coffee ground out completely before using it, otherwise your food may taste faintly of coffee.
How the Spice Mahleb is Used
As mentioned above, the mahleb spice isn’t really used in daily Greek cooking. It is typically reserved for special occasions and for baked goods. In fact, the sharp, sweet quality makes it especially well-suited to various baked goods and desserts. It is an important ingredient in tsoureki, the traditional sweet bread that is served on Easter with a red dyed egg in the middle. It is also a main ingredient in christopsomo, the traditional bread that is served at Christmas. It is also used in sweet desserts like rice pudding, or risogolo, and can also be found in sweet versions of tiropita, a type of cheese pastry that is made with filo dough and soft cheese.
If you decide to buy some mahleb to cook with, remember that it tastes great in various desserts, such as sweet breads, and also pairs well with dairy products. You can either prepare the traditional recipes that call for it, or experiment with your own combinations. Some creative cooks even use it to flavor their homemade ice cream!
Categorized in: Greek Cooking
This post was written by Greek Boston