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Delights from the Garden of Eden

Delights from the Garden of Eden

By Nawal Nasrallah

Published 2019

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Baharat is an all-purpose blend of spices, somewhat similar to the Indian garam masala ‘spice blend.’

Baharat is used throughout the Middle East, but each region, or even each household, has its own favorite blend of spices.

In all probability, at some point of time during the Ottoman era the name bihar/bahar started to designate ‘spice mix,’ after Bihar, the old name of India, which is indeed the source of most of the spices used in the Middle East. Otherwise, during the pre-Ottoman period, spice mixes in the medieval Muslim eastern and western Arab world were called atraf al-teeb, afwah al-teeb, and nawafih al-teeb (literally ‘blend of aromatic spices’). Besides using spices individually, medieval Arabic cookbooks sometimes required blends of spices. One of al-Warraq’s tenth-century recipes, for instance, calls for al-afaweeh al-arba’a (the four aromatic spices) and the reader was expected to recognize this blend. But al-Warraq does not leave things to chance, he actually does provide its components: spikenard, cloves, cassia, and nutmeg. We are equally fortunate that the thirteenth-century Aleppan cookbook Al-Wusla ila ‘l-Habeeb volunteers a list of spices used in the famous blend called atraf al-teeb/afwah al-teeb. They are: spikenard, betel-leaf, bay leaves, nutmeg, mace, green cardamom, cloves, rose buds, seeds of elm tree (lisan al-‘asfour), long pepper (dar fulful), ginger, and black pepper. All these spices were ground separately and then mixed (Ibn al-’Adeem).