Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Turkey Baharat: An Otherworldly Recipe

In autumn we arrive at the fulcrum of change, from flower to fruit, from seed to vegetable, all of nature’s bounty lies before us. Pleasure is a guest at every table and in the fall, it guides the hand of the cook who has patiently waited for cooler days and the bounties of the season. The essence of cooking is transformation and it is this quality, along with our ancestral links, that permits the parting of the veil between worlds.

The preparation of food engages our senses and it starts the moment ingredients are selected. We look, touch, and smell produce before choosing what best suits need and appetite. Washing, cutting and preparing food with our hands uncovers hidden scents that lie beneath vegetal skins and membranes, revealing the defining character of fruits, vegetables and animal flesh. As food is transformed by fire a variety of aromas are released, wrapping the soul in the comfort of sweet and savory perfumes. To inhale these enchanting scents is to know time as an endless continuum of culinary delight.

The promise of nourishment is maternally archetypal so it should come as no surprise that when one is cooking, a window to the past opens into the present. In this space the essence of those who taught us how to cook, and those who preceded them, escapes through the steam and vapor of the cooking pot. Otherworldly inspiration isn’t a stranger to the cook. An alchemical process guided by intuition is activated when mixing disparate ingredients with the intention of creating a cohesive whole. One must be familiar with the individual essence of each ingredient and in combining them, be willing to improvise as needed. This process is not reserved for complex creations for even the simplest of dishes must make connections with previous attempts to create a specific effect.

Turkey Baharat is a recipe inspired by Middle Eastern roots. There is no paper trail behind this dish; no cookbooks, no recipe cards, no verbal recitations from a family matriarch scribbled in simple journals. I cannot attribute the inspiration to my early years at the dinner table as my childhood was colored by American tastes adopted by immigrant parents. Turkey Baharat was inspired by the smell of Arabic Baharat, a spice mixture commonly used with mutton, lamb, lentil and pilaf dishes.

The notion of Turkey Baharat, as a recipe, was instinctual and immediate. As soon as I opened the spice jar, the melding of tellicherry black pepper, coriander, cloves, cumin, cardamom, nutmeg, cassia and allspice transfixed my senses with their dark, exotic beauty. Though I had never encountered this blend of spices before, there was an undeniable sense of déjà vu. I cannot say what I can ascribe this to, but I know that someone on my mother’s side of the family must have used this exact combination of spices—I feel in my heart and in my head to this very day.

Turkey Baharat
Recipe by Michelle Krell Kydd
(Serves 6)

· 1 lb. ground lean turkey (7% fat or less)
· 1 medium onion, chopped
· 10 prunes, chopped
· 1/4 cup grapeseed oil
· 1 1/2 teaspoon baharat
· 1 cup canned pumpkin puree
· 1 small (10 oz.)package frozen spinach (thawed)
· 5 tablespoons tomato paste
· 3-4 tablespoons honey (light honey)
· 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
· 1 can chicken low sodium/low fat stock
· 1/2 teaspoon orange flower water

· Chop onions and prunes separately and set aside.
· Heat grapeseed oil in a large skillet and sauté onions on a medium flame until they begin to caramelize. The chopped onion pieces should be clear and the outer edges should be a cinnamon color.
· Add the dry baharat spice to the onions and thoroughly coat them with the spice mixture.
· Slowly pour the chicken stock over the onions and stir together.
· Place chopped prunes into the pan.
· Add 1 cup of pumpkin puree and mix until thoroughly incorporated.
· Add tomato paste and blend well.
· Add pomegranate molasses and honey, stirring until they are completely dissolved.
· Add thawed spinach.
· Simmer ingredients until they approach a boil.
· Add lean chopped turkey and stir continuously, breaking up the meat.
· Allow to simmer for ten minutes with the lid on.
· Add orange flower water.
· Remove from flame and allow the dish to rest for 15 minutes, with the lid on.
· Add salt to taste and serve over couscous or rice.


Baharat packs a touch of heat, but is not at all searing. If you are sensitive to hot spices, add an extra teaspoon or two of pomegranate molasses as its acidic nature has a neutralizing effect on heat. If Turkey Baharat is prepared in advance and allowed to sit in the refrigerator overnight, the flavors will meld beautifully.

Baharat is the most common spice mixture used in Arabic cuisine and variations exist in Israel, Turkey and other Mediterranean countries. This recipe was created with good health in mind, hence the use of lean ground turkey.

The picture featured at the beginning of this week’s article is a painting by Krista Lynn Brown entitled “Smoke Prayer”. The acrylic on canvas painting is one of many for sale on her website. Brown’s dreamy paintings are rich in imagery and symbolism, and are extremely beautiful to look at.

Memories Dreams and Reflections is the autobiography of Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist whose memorable contributions to analysis include; the collective unconscious, the theory of synchronicity, and psychological archetypes. Jung had a profound understanding of the spiritual and his interest in esoteric sciences and dreams set him apart from Freudian colleagues.

Special thanks to Ayala Sender, editor of Smellyblog, whose inspired pieces on Sukkot and citron stirred personal food and cultural memories.