A native of southern India, ajowan is also grown in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Egypt and is related to caraway and cumin, even though its taste is quite different. Referred to sometimes as "lovage", "ajwain" or "carom" in India. Use in recipes for savory dishes; goes especially well with fish. The seeds are also added to curries and breads.
Native to southwestern Asia, i.e., Iran, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan, asafoetida (also spelled asafetida) is a dried resin-like substance obtained from the rhizomes of several species of ferula, or giant fennel. The entire plant emits a distinctive smell. In powder form, asafoetida has a strong, unpleasant smell, similar to pickled garlic, but is used in Indian and Arab cuisines to enhance the flavor of some dishes.
Fenugreek has grown in the Mediterranean region and Western and Southern Asia from earliest times to the present. The name comes from the Latin -meaning "Greek hay." The seeds have a faint curry flavor and a bitter, peppery aftertaste. Fenugreek is used in Indian curries. Curries for lamb and beef absolutely require fenugreek for balance. In the Middle East, it is ground to a paste for vegetable dishes, and used in sweet, halvah.
The culinary nigella plant is native to Western Asia, the Middle East and Southern Europe. It is grown primarily in India, where it is used extensively in the cuisine of all regions. It is used in many spice mixtures of the area. The nigella seeds are very small, black in color with a lightly aromatic, peppery flavor. It can be used as a pepper substitute. Add to buttered vegetables (cabbage or zucchini) to give them an exotic flavor and crunchy texture. Rub seeds into steak before grilling. Also used to season bread in the Middle East.
Sumac is a non-poisonous red berry that gives a distinctive tangy lemon flavor to chicken, grilled meat, yogurt sauces and Middle Eastern bread salad. The berries were used by the Romans before lemons reached Europe. The Lebanese and Syrians sprinkle sumac on fish; the Iraqis and Turks add it to salads; and the Iranians and Georgians season kebabs with it.
Grains of Paradise
Grains of Paradise is indigenous to the coast of West Africa and is also known as Melagueta pepper and is related to cardamom. These tiny grains have a hot and peppery taste but have the aroma of cardamom. They were used in the past to spice wine and beer (Sam Adams now makes a wheat ale with Grains of Paradise). Today, Grains of Paradise appear almost exclusively in West African cooking. They are one of the components of raz-el-hanout and are also excellent in mulled wine, with potatoes and eggplants, and in braised lamb recipes.