Have you heard of Ras El Hanout? Translating to something like “top shelf” or “the best of the shop,” this traditional Moroccan spice blend features a bounty of warming spices that compliments stews, dips, roasted meats and vegetables, and (of course) Moroccan tagines.
Buy It or Make It?
Once upon a time, every North African spice merchant was to have their own secret recipe for Ras El Hanout, but today you can find prepackaged spice blends at most grocery stores.
However, there’s a lot to be said for making your own spice blends at home. For one thing, many spice blends share common ingredients–cumin and cinnamon, for example–so you can actually save money by whipping up your own. You’ll discover that Ras El Hanout has some similarities to both pumpkin pie spice and Indian curry powder!
For another, you can adjust the blends to your taste and skip the added salt in many commercial packaged spice mixtures. You need a certain amount of salt to make foods really pop, but it’s better to control the amount by adding it yourself.
Finally, you’ll be able to enjoy the freshest–and therefore most flavorful–spice blends by going the DIY route. Too many of us have spice drawers or racks packed with old, dusty-looking jars. It’s much, much better to use fresh spices. If possible, grind your own nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves. You won’t believe the difference!
Basic Formula for Ras El Hanout
The building blocks of Ras El Hanout are the same for most recipes, but there are endless variations. Some traditional recipes include more than 30 different spices! That’s not practical for most home cooks, so here’s a good, basic formula:
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
To this foundation, you can try adding other spices until you devise your own personal blend. Try ground anise for a licorice kick, or add extra cayenne for a spicier blend. Ground nutmeg adds more warmth. Personally, I like a healthy 1/2 teaspoon of ground cardamom in mine.
If you want to get more exotic, try adding ground caraway seeds or fennel seeds. You can even add dried rose petals–just put them in a spice grinder or pulverize with a mortar and pestle first. There are no wrong answers when devising your own blend!
Ras El Hanout goes exceptionally well with Moroccan sweet-and-savory dishes. Many of their traditional meals involve slow-cooked meats with vegetables, fruit, and nuts. The meat is usually either chicken or lamb. Ras El Hanout is also great with couscous and chickpeas if you’re vegetarian.
You can also jazz up other recipes with a dash of Ras El Hanout. For example, homemade ketchup with the spice blend is out of this world!