Every cuisine has its own all-purpose spice. In Indian cooking, it’s garam masala. In the United States, poultry spice and Italian seasoning are go-to blends for all things savory. And in the Middle East, bahārāt reigns supreme. But what is bahārāt? It’s aromatic and spicy and no two blends are alike, yet it enhances the flavor of sauces, soups, vegetables, and plant-based meats like no other spice.
What is Bahārāt?
Bahārāt is an aromatic, all-purpose blend of spices that is as ubiquitous to Middle Eastern cuisine as garam masala is to Indian food. Even the meaning behind their names is similar. While garam masala means “hot spice,” bahārāt is the Arabic word for “spice.”
Like garam masala, the exact flavor of bahārāt may vary depending on region, country, restaurant, and even family. It is made from a combination of black peppercorns, coriander, cumin, allspice, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, paprika, and nutmeg that are ground into a fine powder. The base is always the same (except for Turkey, where mint is added to the blend), but ratios may vary. Bahārāt is typically dominated by smoky, sweet notes, but it may also be spicy or earthy. In addition to that, saffron, sumac, turmeric, and chili peppers may also be included. Like many spice blends, making bahārāt can be a personal affair that depends entirely on the taste preferences of the individual.
How to Make Bahārāt
Even if you can find bahārāt in stores near you, nothing beats the flavor of a homemade spice blend — especially if you start with whole spices. To make your own bahārāt, combine 1 tablespoon black peppercorns, 1 tablespoon coriander seeds, 2 tablespoons whole cumin, 1 tablespoon allspice, 1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds, 1 teaspoon whole cloves, 1 4-inch piece of cinnamon or cassia bark, 2 tablespoons paprika, and 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg. Combine all ingredients except for paprika and nutmeg in a mortar and pestle, coffee grinder, or spice grinder. This may take a few tries. Once the mixture is fine, add the paprika and nutmeg and blend again. To make Turkish bahārāt, add 1/2 a tablespoon or more of mint.
Store your homemade bahārāt in a mason jar or other airtight container. Store in the refrigerator or freezer to make it stay fresher, longer — but make sure that the container you use is truly airtight because condensation from the fridge can make its way into the container and cause the spices to go bad.
In Middle Eastern cuisine, bahārāt is typically used to season meat and fish, but the same techniques can be applied to plant-based meats like tofu, tempeh, seitan, and even store-bought products like burgers, mock chicken, and more. See How to Make the Perfect Baked Tofu for tips on how to prepare the best tofu you’ll ever taste and incorporate bahārāt into the marinade. If you prefer tempeh, check out Tips For Making Amazing Tempeh Dishes and then use bahārāt as a dry rub or as the seasoning in a marinade. Or, use it when making homemade seitan. For the best flavor, fold bahārāt into the wheat gluten dough and then season the outside with bahārāt as well. Bahārāt-seasoned seitan would be great for dishes like seitan kebabs or seitan shawarma. You could also make this Seitan Doner Kebab and use Turkish bahārāt as the seasoning. Mix Turkish bahārāt into the meaty topping of this Lahmacun, also known as Turkish pizza.
Like garam masala, bahārāt is an all-purpose spice. You can use it as a finishing spice for soups, stews, and sauces. If you want to flavor a sauce with bahārāt, start by adding vegan butter or coconut oil to the pot and fry the bahārāt briefly in order to release the flavors. Then, follow up with aromatics like onion, ginger, and garlic. Bahārāt would pair particularly well with this Middle Eastern Red Lentil Soup or this Iranian Eggplant and Chickpea Stew. Turkish bahārāt would be a wonderful finishing touch to these Turkish Stewed Green Beans.
Bahārāt pairs particularly well with eggplant. First, learn how to prep eggplant the right way and then use those techniques to make this Eggplant Kebab. Use it to season these tender, smoky Eggplant Slices With Tahini Cumin Sauce or these Baked Rice Hummus Stacks. It can even pair beautifully with cauliflower, as in this Tahini-Roasted Cauliflower With Lemony Herb Oil where whole cauliflower is roasted with a coating of tahini sauce mixed with homemade bahārāt.
Unless you live close to a Middle Eastern grocery, it is very unlikely that you’ll find bahārāt. Luckily, it’s easy to make your own or find bahārāt online, like this Bahārāt Mix by Burma Spices. One 4-ounce bag costs $12. If you’re not sure if you’ll like bahārāt, but want to try it, pick up this Organic Bahārāt Seasoning by Spicely. One 0.4-ounce compact costs $6.
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