Going North

In preparation for summer we are experimenting with some new spice mixes and while we will never abandon our trusted homemade Malay masala & Moroccan Ras-el-hanout, we are also looking at more North African spice mixes. One of these, Bahārāt, which simply means “spice” in Arabic, is a all-purpose seasoning used in North African cuisine. Although the particular blend varies by region and household, it always includes black pepper and typically has cumin, cinnamon, and cloves, among other spices.

Aromatic, warm, and sweet, a pinch of bahārāt can add depth and flavor to soups, tomato sauces, lentils, rice pilafs, and couscous. It can also be used as a rub for fish, poultry, and meat; mixed with olive oil and used as a vegetable marinade; and blended with garlic, parsley, and olive oil to make a condiment paste.

Bahārāt is easily mixed in your own kitchen. We recommend starting with whole spices, which tend to be more flavorful, especially when they are toasted before grinding. We keep a cast iron skillet handy for all toasting, although roasting under a hot grill for 10 minutes also gets an even roast. Here is one recipe, but feel free to alter the ingredients and proportions to create your own signature blend. Other additions may include sumac, saffron, turmeric, and chiles. Turkish style bahārāt includes dried mint, and in North Africa the blend often has dried rose petals. Don’t grind all the r

Makes about 3/4 cup

2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
1 tablespoon allspice berries
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
4 (3-inch) cassia or cinnamon sticks
2 tablespoons ground sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Grind the whole spices using a mortar and pestle, spice mill, or coffee grinder. (You may need to do it in several batches.) Add the paprika and nutmeg and combine.

Store in an airtight container for up to 3 months.



For sauce
1 cup plain yogurt (preferably whole-milk)
1 teaspoon minced garlic

For köfte
2 slices firm white sandwich bread, torn into pieces
1 lb ground lamb
1 small red onion, minced or grated
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon baharat spice mix
1 1/2 teaspoons Maras pepper flakes*
1 1/2 teaspoons Urfa pepper flakes*
2 teaspoons salt

Accompaniment: 16 soft lettuce leaves for wrapping (optional)
Special equipment: 16 (10-inch) wooden skewer
Note: Substitute 2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper or 1 tsp hot pepper flakes for both Maras and Urfa pepper flakes if they are unavailable

Make sauce: Stir yogurt with garlic and salt to taste.
Make köfte: Cover bread with water in a bowl and soak 30 minutes, then squeeze bread to remove as much moisture as possible.

Prepare grill while bread soaks. Transfer squeezed bread to a large bowl and add remaining köfte ingredients, then mix well with your hands until thoroughly blended. Divide lamb mixture into 16 portions and form each into a ball. Roll each ball into a 7- to 8-inch-long “cigar,” rolling first between your hands and then on a work surface (be sure the köfte are thin enough for even cooking). Slide a skewer lengthwise through center of each köfte.

Grill on oiled grill rack, turning over once, until golden and just cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes. Serve warm with yogurt sauce.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.