How to make baharat, the spice darling of Israeli cuisine
This multi-spice blend gives many Mediterranean dishes their exotic flavor profile.
During my cooking class at Te’amim Cooking School in Israel, one of the more exotic spices we used was baharat – an aromatic, savory blend of spices commonly used in Israeli and Mediterranean cuisine. This spice blend gives many traditional dishes their distinctly exotic taste and smell, including lamb kabobs, chicken and meat entrees, soups and spreads.
The word baharat means spices, from the singular root word bahar (which means spice or pepper). But which spices are used in this fabulous blend is the real mystery. Some foodies claim there are seven spices in traditional baharat: pepper, coriander, cumin, paprika, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Others say no paprika, and use allspice as the seventh spice.
Several authentic suppliers sell versions with fewer than seven spices. New York Shuk’s baharat blend contains just five: black peppercorn, cumin, cinnamon, allspice, and rose petals. Amazon has a version by Sahadi with six spices: black pepper, coriander, cardamom, allspice, cloves and nutmeg.
Shay Lavi, an Israeli chef and owner of Rozina’s Bakehouse in Atlanta, says, “Baharat is the main spice in cooking chicken, beef, kubbe, pickles, rice, and tabit – an Iraqi stew. The main ingredients are cloves, cinnamon, white pepper and black pepper.” Lavi admits there are many different versions of the mixture, and adds “my own blend is made from cinnamon, white pepper, cumin, and cloves.”
Tunisian baharat uses dried rose petals. Caterer Julie Meni grew up near the Mediterranean Sea in Israel, and swears by a blend that combines allspice, black pepper, cinnamon, dried rose petals, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and cardamom. “This blend is really good – I use it for meat, chicken, and even vegetarian dishes,” she says.
If you’re a DIYer in the kitchen, you can make your own baharat with this simple recipe from The Daring Gourmet. Toasting the seeds and pods before grinding adds another dimension of flavor, and will result in a deeper flavor profile – just be sure to let them cool completely before grinding. And if you’re not a fan of one of the spices, leave it out and sub for one you like better – it’s a forgiving mixture, and the goal is for you to enjoy the flavors of your food!
Once you’ve got your baharat spice ready, you’ll want to try out some of the best recipes that highlight this warm, savory spice blend. One of the most popular recipes online is Yummly’s Spicy Ground Beef with Baharat; you can try Baharat Rib-Eye Steak from Silk Road; or Baharat Salmon Cakes with Aioli for a Mediterranean spin on salmon croquettes.
For seriously easy ways to inject some baharat spice into your dinner, simply roast vegetables with a splash of olive oil and a sprinkle of baharat, or grill fish using the spice as a rub. For a great Super Bowl snack or party appetizer, try mixing 1/2 teaspoon of baharat into your homemade or store-bought hummus for some really intense flavor.
My parting advice: don’t waste your time wondering which is the authentic version of this spice blend. Just get your hands on some of it, try it out, and with the first bite – even the first whiff – you’ll know why it’s the spice darling of Israeli cuisine.
MORE FROM THE GRAPEVINE: