Bazen is a uniquely Libyan dish traditionally found only in the south and western part of the country. Though the dish can now be found throughout Libya, it is truly a specialty that is only cooked within the home on Friday’s or for special occasions. You either love or hate Bazen—a cake-like substance eaten with ones hands that is made from barley.
This was my first time eating—and making—Bazen, and it actually somewhat reminded me of when I spent time in Kenya. There they have a dish called Ugali (lovingly called “African cake”) made out of maze flour. The concept is similar in that it’s a large ball, eaten communally, eaten with ones hands, that becomes the tool for picking up the meat and vegetables. West Africa has Fufu, a similar dish but made from the root vegetable cassava. I’m no food anthropologist but it seems this ball-like staple is a concept home to the large and varied continent of Africa. At least, I’ve not seen it anywhere else.
This weekend my friend Nabiha (who also taught me how to make the Libyan stuffed potatoes, m’batten—thanks Nabiha!), showed me how to make her family’s style of Bazen. She reminded me this is her “efficient method” taking some modern-day liberties to quicken the cooking of the Bazen. A mother of three, she knows how important it is to save time, but her methodology also speaks to how even traditional food adapts to the changes and demands of modernity.
Her young children love Bazen, and were excited that we were making it. Perhaps eating with hands in a communal way is part of the fun for them—it certainly was for me!
Ingredients (for 6-8 people)
- 6-8 eggs
- Lamb chunks (about 2-3 pounds)
- 2 cans tomato paste
- 2 jalapeno peppers
- Onion powder
- Cayenne powder
- 4-6 potatoes peeled and chunked
- Barley flour
- Olive oil
1) Boil eggs
2) Make sauce with meat boiling in it. This will take at least an hour to do.
-water (4-5 cups)
-onion powder (2-3 TBSP)
-cayenne pepper powder (1 TBSP)
-turmeric (1/2 TBSP)
-2 cans of tomato paste
-two whole or chopped jalapeño peppers (depending on desired spiciness)
3) Peel and cut 4 potatoes. Add to meat when meat is cooked 2/3 way through.
-3-4 cups of whole wheat flour or ground barley (barley is traditional)
-1 TBSP salt
-generous helping of olive oil (1/4 cup or so)
-enough water to bind the dough (1/2-1 cup)
Mix the ingredients together thoroughly to create a large ball. Boil in water for 20-30 minutes. Then transfer to food processor or mixer to mix flour into large bowl (will take a few rounds or dough, and more than one ball can be made).
Boil water and add flour/barley, salt, oil, mixing until large ball forms, stirring constantly.
Last, put the Bazen into a serving dish/bowl, adding the meat and potatoes to the side. Pour the sauce over, then place the boiled eggs around the dish to decorate. Eating with ones hands is the only way to eat Bazen-don’t even try to bring out utensils!
*The old wives tale says that if you get spanked or hit with the Bazen stirring stick, you will never get married. It seems this old wives tale was told to keep children out of the kitchen and away from trying to steal tastes of the in-process Bazen!