Middle-eastern food and its spices interest me no end. The very similarity of the food from that region with north-Indian food is what draws me to try food from that region. Similarities are but obvious given that a good deal of north-Indian food is a fusion of traditional Indian with what The Moghuls brought to India centuries ago. For this on-going Blogging Marathon, most recipes that I have chosen were those that are similar to what we cook at home.
It is fascinating that a simple dish of stir-fried tomatoes and onions mixed with rice that I prepare hurriedly for my husband’s lunch box to office should be almost exactly the same as what is known as Jollof rice in parts of Africa. Or that what we know as kofta in India is actually a take on the Arabic kafta, so what if the tahini paste of the Middle-eastern version be interpreted as a tomato gravy here!
The easiest way to compare food from different regions is to try out their spice mixes. I have a thing for spice mixes. I just keep trying new ones at home and try using them in place of our regular masalas. Once in a while I get really lucky with the flavours and the experimental mixes find a permanent place on the kitchen cupboard. One such is the Baharat – very similar to our garam masala, but with a couple of spices that we normally don’t add to our garam masala (nutemeg and allspice for example). I almost always grind a new batch of the Baharat when it nears the finishing line. In fact, I love the flavour of this one so much that I almost always use it in place of garam masala!
Another Indian masala that I love is the Dabeli masala that I use lots, especially when making a side dish with gravy for rotis. The dabeli is among my favourite tea-time eats and I often order for it at a chaat shop close to our house. I won’t claim I make it often at home, but I love the potato filling that goes with it and I often make potato stir fry with the dabeli masala in place of the curry/sambhar powder.
Then there was the Za’atar craze sometime last year when I saw a whole lot of recipes on blogs for flatbreads with za’atar. I’d have been happy to make this myself, except that it called for sumac and za’atar, neither of which is available locally in India. So, when my parents took a vacation to the US last year, I promptly asked them to buy me this spice. It is a very interesting spice mix and I love using it with pita bread and other yeasted flatbreads, but beyond that I feel a little lost with this one.
Oh, but wait, this post is supposed to be about the Bezar spice mix, right? Sorry! I got a little carried away. The Bezar spice is to Arabic cuisine, what the garam masala is to north-Indian food. In fact, in her book The Complete UAE cookbook, author Celia Ann Brock-Al Ansari that Bezar is the “very essence of Arabian cooking and is a mixture of spices first roasted then pounded together.” The spice is quite commonly used throughout the Arabic world, especially as a rub for meats.
Almost none of the recipes I found online uses fenugreek seeds in the mix. But this recipe I took from a Ramadan newspaper supplement does (shared very graciously by Priya who lives in Sharjah). It has much lesser quantity of dried red chillies than other recipes called for, which is good as you have full control over how spicy/masaledar you want your dish to be. The Bezar mix also has quite a bit of turmeric, so you need not add any additional turmeric to your dish. The last week has been a Bezar mania for me, from the simple stew featured here to stir-fries and baghaar tadka on dals; it is finding its way into everything!
Despite the fact that it is mostly used with non vegertarian dishes, I went ahead and made it because all the ingredients used are common to Indian cuisine and I wanted to see how different it would be from the garam masala and the baharat, which is also an all-purpose spice mix used in Arabic food. The house smelt wonderful when I was roasting the spices for this mix. My neighbour, in fact, knocked on the door to check what I was making!
The mix is very flavoursome to say the least. The very next day I used it to make a simple mix vegetable stew. I added only the Bezar mix and left out even the customary green/red chillies during the tadka to see how the flavour would be. Everyone at home loved the simple dinner of roti and the Bezar stew, including my fussy 30-month-old. Now that says a lot in favour of this mix, doesn’t it? You can check the recipe for the Bezar vegetable stew here.
Bezar Spice mix – Arabic spice mix
Cumin seeds – 20 gm
Dried Coriander seeds – 20 gm
Fenugreek seeds – 20 gm
Fennel seeds – 20 gm
Dry red chillies – 2-3
Turmeric powder – 20 gm
Cinnamon powder – 3 g
Dry roast all ingredients (except turmeric and cinnamon powders) one by one till they turn aromatic. Take care not to burn any of the spices. You want the flavours here, not the smoky charred smell in your mix!
After you roast the last spice, remove the pan from heat and add the turmeric and cinnamon powders to it. Let it remain in the pan for a minute or two. Keep stirring all the while with a wooden spoon as turmeric burns very easily
Let everything cool down to room temperature and grind to a fine powder
Store in an airtight container at room temperature
For more recipes from countries starting with the letter O, check this link: