How to Use My Baharat Spice Blend

 

Many traditional cultures have a core combination of spices that form a base upon which flavors are created. That spice base defines local peasant (which I call “people’s”) cuisine and the ethnic haute cuisine built upon it. The exact blend varies between families, clans, and regions and is influenced by its history of interaction with people from other cultures. Baharat is a spice based in and used across the Arabian Middle East. Generations ago it traveled across the once Turkish Empire, where it picked up Turkish mint as a common ingredient. I was surprised to discover that it is that Turkish legacy, mint, that gives Baharat Spice Blend it’s signature “Arabian” flavor. 

This is my own variant on the Baharat spice base. It closely follows the tradition, but contains a few tweaks that give me the Middle Eastern flavor I love. I make my blends in small batches, starting with whole spices, some of which are dry pan roasted to enhance their flavor before being ground, mixed, and packaged. Each batch produces about 12 packets of fresh, aromatic, and nutrient-rich spice that I produce from start to finish in one continuous activity.

Always be prepared to adjust the amount of a spice blend you use to suit your own taste preferences. That’s a part of making cooking an art, and of discovering family legacy meals. When you are uncertain, start with a reduced amount; you can add spice toward the end if it’s too mild.

Chicken Schwarma

This delicious Middle Eastern meal is best made on the grill, although good results come from the oven, too. Serve with large rounds of flatbread with fillings like chopped tomato, shredded lettuce, black or green olives, chopped scallion, and even grated goat or lamb cheese. Let your meal companions make their own wraps!

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs skinless, boneless chicken thighs

Marinade

  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 pkg Baharat Spice Blend
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Optional: 2 tsp smoked paprika

Yoghurt Sauce

  • 1 cup Greek yoghurt
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Combine the marinade ingredients in a large bowl, or in a large sealable bag. Add the chicken thighs and mix to coat. Marinate overnight, up to 24 hours.

2. Combine and mix the yoghurt sauce ingredients in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

3. To grill: Heat the grill to medium high. Grill the chicken on each side about 5 minutes, until nicely charred and cooked through. Tent loosely in foil and rest 5 minutes.

     To pan fry: Heat a heavy pan on the stovetop on medium high. Cook the chicken until nicely charred on each side and cooked through. Tent loosely in foil and rest 5 minutes.

4. Slice the chicken and pile on a platter.

To Serve: Slather a flatbread with the yoghurt sauce, then top with chicken and toppings.

To roll up: first fold the bottom up about ⅓ of the way, then roll from one side across to the other, tucking around the meat and vegetables.

Tips:

1. You can freeze the chicken thighs in a freezer bag with the marinade days ahead. As the chicken and marinade defrost, it will marinate!

2. You can cook the chicken a day ahead, or the morning before an afternoon or evening party, and reheat it prior to serving. Mix the reheated chicken slices with the marinade and it will be perfect.

Quick and Delicious Ground Lamb Dish

This easy 20-minute dish is perfect in itself! Or it can be used as a filling for pita bread, in flatbread rollups, or as stuffing for grape leaves! You can also make it with thin slices of lamb. (I slice it ¼” thick by 2-3″ long.)

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup pine nuts
  • 1 lb ground lamb
  • ½ cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
  • ½ cup dried currants (or cranberries)
  • 2 tsp Baharat Spice Blend

Directions

1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet, then add the onion and cook it over medium heat until soft and translucent, about 7 minutes.

2. Add the garlic and pine nuts and continue cooking 2-3 minutes.

3. Turn the heat to high and add the lamb. Cook until the meat is cooked through.

4. Remove from heat, add mint, currants, and Baharat Spice Blend. Stir to combine. Serve.

How to Make Stuffed Grape Leaves

1. Soak grape leaves in a large pot filled with boiling water and one tablespoon salt for five minutes. Remove from water and strain. Set aside.

2. Prepare a marinade from 2 cups water, 1 tablespoon olive oil, ¼ cup fresh lemon juice, and salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Don’t boil until Step 7. You’ll also need 3 or 4 large, ripe tomatoes, sliced into thin rounds, and 4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced.

3. Reduce amount of ground lamb to ¼ pound; the pine nuts, mint, and currants to ¼ cup; and the Baharat Spice Blend to ½ teaspoon.

4. Add 1½ cups uncooked brown rice in step 3, and only cook the lamb until just browned. (The rice will cook when the grape leaves steam.)

5. Place a leaf, shiny side down (vein side up) on a clean working space. Place about one teaspoon of filling in the center of the leaf, fold in the sides of the leaf, and roll from the bottom (stem side) to the top. Make sure to create a very tight roll.

6. Line the bottom and lowest sides of a large pot with a layer of sliced tomatoes. Place the prepared leaves tightly on top of the tomatoes in concentric circles, leaving no gaps between them. Repeat until you run out of grape leaves, or the pot is full. Add tomato slices around the edge as you build your stack.

7. When you’re finished (or the pot is full), evenly sprinkle the slices of 4 thinly sliced cloves of garlic over the grape leaves, then pour on the marinating sauce. Place a plate on top of the leaves, put on the pot lid, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook for 1½ hours.

 

Broiled Salmon with Baharat Butter

This delightful take on broiled fish features Arabian-flavored butter for a delicious variation on a quick and healthy weeknight staple! Serve on a bed of brown rice with a side of garden-fresh vegetables.

Ingredients

  • 4 tbsp butter
  • ½ tbsp Baharat Spice Blend
  • optional: up to ½ tsp salt
  • 1 lb salmon fillets
  • 3 tbsp olive or coconut oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

1. Make Spiced Butter by blending 4 tablespoons of room-temperature butter and ½ tablespoon of my Baharat Spice Blend. (You can also add optional salt, though I don’t think it’s needed.)

Tip: Roll the extra butter in waxed paper, making a 1″ thick log. Place in baggie and, for maximum flavor, store in refrigerator for up to a week or in the freezer for a month.

2. Turn on oven broiler and place an oven rack about 8″ below the heating element.

3. Using a large cast iron or heavy all-steel (no plastic or wood parts!) skillet over a medium-high stovetop, heat the olive or coconut oil.

4. When the oil shimmers, carefully place the salmon in the pan, skin side down and slightly separated from one another.

5. Watch the fillet sear as the raw fish cooks from the bottom up. When it reaches about ⅓ of the way (2-3 minutes), remove the skillet to the pre-heated oven.

6. Broil about 3 minutes, until the fish has finished cooking through. Remove it and use a fork to test the flesh. It should flake easily.

To Serve: Cut each fillet in half, place on a bed of brown rice, and top with a generous pat of Baharat Spiced Butter.

How to Make Perfect Brown (or Wild) Rice

1. For each cup of uncooked brown or wild rice, place 4 cups of cold water in a pot. Cover and bring to a boil.

2. When the water has a rolling boil to it, rinse the rice in a strainer under cold water for 30 seconds, stirring by hand, then drain and add to the pot.

3. Turn the heat to medium. Leave the pot uncovered, and cook for exactly 30 minutes. Adjust the stove temperature so you have a slight, barely perceptible rolling boil.

4. After 30 minutes, pour the rice and remaining water into a strainer. Let drain for 10 seconds, then return the cooked rice to the pot.

5. Put the lid back on and set the pot aside for 10 minutes. Do NOT put it back on the stovetop burner. After 10 minutes, remove the cover, fluff, and serve.

Note: This method will work with white rice, too, but watch it more carefully because it may run out of water before the half hour is up. That’s because white rice, among its other problems, absorbs more water. If the white rice is too dry before it’s fully cooked, add a half cup of boiling water.

Lamb Koftas

Try this is easy, fun, and tasty grilled dish – you’ll be glad you did!

Ingredients

  • 1 lb ground lamb
  • 1 onion, grated on a box grater
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • ¼ cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 package Baharat Spice Blend
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl; thoroughly mix with your hands. (There’s no better way to do it!) Refrigerate for at least 1 hour to make the meat easier to handle – and up to 24 hours in a sealed container or bag.

2. Dampen you hands, then divide the meat into 8 pieces. Shape around 8 skewers.

Tip: If you use wooden skewers, soak them in water for half an hour to assure they don’t just burn up on the grill.

3. Grill the koftas on the BBQ until nicely browned all over. Remove and rest 10 minutes before serving.

Serve topped with Yoghurt Sauce with a side of green salad. Or, serve in flatbread slathered with Yoghurt Sauce, with some of the salad included as a garnish.

Yoghurt Sauce

  • 1 cup Greek yoghurt
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • salt and pepper to taste

Thoroughly combine ingredients and refrigerate for several hours, or up to 24 hours, in a sealed container.