I’m always excited at the thought of cooking a Middle -Eastern meal. It’s a cuisine that I started exploring more than half a decade ago. At first my dishes consisted of mostly the creamy hummus , a flavoured cous cous and a spiced aubergine. Seeing that the flavours went down rather well with the family ,I made use of every opportunity to learn more about the food in that part of the world.
It was around this period that I watched a travel episode on Morocco. The show went on to highlight the spice market of Marakkesh . Even on the television screen one could not help but be allured by the mystery and romance surrounding these markets. The souks sold everything from gold to spices.The cacophony emitted by the food vendors while trading their wares only
added to the already exotic ambience.
As I watched entranced the host spoke about a special spice blend called the Baharat. He called it the “essence of the Middle east” ! Baharat is the Arabic word for spice. It is a mixture made by pounding and blending a variety of spices in varied proportions.The Baharat spice powder is the reason that I remember that show so well even today.
The process of making the Baharat is immensely joyful. Every time I make it ,it’s like a first time experience and transports you to a Morocco that is vividly alive in my imagination. The powder can be as coarse or as fine a texture as one wants. It can be used as a dry rub to flavor meats or vegetables. It can also be mixed with fresh ingredients like garlic, herbs , lemon juice or oil to form a wet marinade. It’s delicious whether used to marinate food for a barbeque or to add depth to a rich gravy.
Get out your pestle and mortar to make the Baharat .It is definitely worth the effort. Set aside about half an hour to make it and you will be more than pleased with the result. Some of the spices need to be roasted lightly . Just doing that sets off a multitude of aromas that permeate the whole house. Once the ingredients are roasted and cooled ,they are tipped into the cool stone bowl to be pounded. While one hand is firmly gripped around the pestle , the other hand is curved around the mouth of the mortar. This is just to ensure that when the spices are thrown about during the initial pounding , the hand acts like a barrier to ensure that the spices ricochet back into the bowl. As the dull but persistant thud of the pounding gets louder and rhythmic,it never fails to attract the curiosity of my kitchen helpers. As they peer over my shoulder one person cannot resist asking me if she can speed up the process by giving it a quick blitz in the small blender jar. I can’t help but smile when I ask her if it will also give the same satisfaction that the hand pounding does !
In a matter of minutes,the heady scents of the oils released due to the bashing of these spices, cling lovingly to the palms and fingers. It is strangely calming and intoxicating at the same time. I get impatient towards the end with the final hard bits as I’m eager to get on with the cooking !The blend once made can be stored indefinitely in an air tight container in the refrigerator.
This home made Baharat powder is what spurred me on to invest in a tagine pot which then resulted in me cooking more wholesome Middle eastern meals.The cool yoghurt and mint as well as the sweet raisins , dried apricots and dates are great accompaniments for a dish that resonates with the taste of the Baharat mix.
The Baharat mix does contain cinnamon , coriander , cloves ,cardamom , star anise , cumin and pepper,similar to our garam masala. In addition it also contains the bright red but less spicy long chilli (the paprika) ,nutmeg and all spice. In some parts of the Middle east variations like dried rose petals , dried mint , dried ginger and saffron are also added.
The final joy of making the Baharat is when the dish is ready to be tasted. Any numbness felt in the fingers is completely forgotten when each mouthful is relished and the plates are thrust forward for seconds!
The recipe section will feature method of making the Baharat … Please make sure to leave your thoughts in the comments section !