All the colours and scents of the souk come together in this Moroccan blend, which can contain more than 30 spices and herbs, both common and exotic. Mixing a good ras el hanout, which means “head (or best) of the shop”, is a point of honour for Moroccan spice merchants, and recipes are closely guarded secrets. Ras el hanout is extremely versatile and perfectly illustrates how a well-chosen combination of spices can work together to make magic. It’s so magical, in fact, that many Moroccans also believe it has aphrodisiac properties.
Ras el hanout ranges in colour from ochre to burgundy, and generally has a robust, curry-like flavour with a spicy kick, a floral aroma and subtle nuances. The best blends perfectly balance heat, bitterness and sweetness. Ingredients commonly include ground nutmeg, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, paprika, ginger, coriander, cumin, mace, black pepper, turmeric, fennel, cassia, saffron, allspice, bay, caraway and cayenne. More exotic additions might include dried rosebuds, ash berries, cubeb pepper, long pepper, orris root, galangal, lavender or “grains of paradise”, usually imported from Ghana.
Use ras el hanout in ...
meat and vegetable tagines, stirred though or sprinkled over rice or couscous. It works particularly well in slow-cooked dishes: add a pinch to soups, stews and sauces, and the flavours will develop a wonderful rich complexity. It’s also a quick and easy way to add a wow factor to barbecues: mix with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice to make a marinade or rub for fish, chicken or red meat. Buy it as a pre-made blend or make your own. Keep ras el hanout in a glass jar and store in a dry, dark place, where it will keep for a few months.
Ras el hanout goes with ...
pork, lamb, beef, fish, chicken, couscous, yoghurt, fresh or preserved lemon, root vegetables, onion, garlic, tomato, stone fruits, pears, parsley, dates, harissa.