I’ve been doing a lot of Moroccan and North African cooking lately and ras el hanout spice mix is used quite often.
This is one of my favorite spice blends simply because it’s never made exactly the same twice. You almost can’t do it wrong, instead, sometimes it’s much better than others. Sounds perfect for a cook like myself.
The name literally means top of the shop which means it’s the spice merchant’s very best blend. And the secret behind its ingredients and ratios is well-guarded. From ten to a hundred ingredients, depending.
If you enjoyed my za’atar, you’re going to love this.
Ras el hanout has a complexity, depth, intrigue, and warmth which is tricky to find or duplicate otherwise. (I struggled to come up with those words because our tendency is to say “spicy” when describing a spice and then we all falter a bit.)
There’s a reason it’s been called lazy wife’s spice by some in the past (with all due respect, of course). If I’m to cook meat (especially in a tagine), or couscous, a soup or stew, even some savory desserts, ras el hanout has a unique flavor special enough for me to keep it pre-made in the spice cabinet.
Before we get too excited, though, it’s not great on seafood or more delicate vegetables. Ends up overpowering too subtle flavors. At least for me – you do you.
I have two caveats before we start that I always try to keep in mind when blending spices.
1) Depending on each individual spice’s source and terroir (soil, topography, climate), they can taste a little or even a lot different and can vary greatly in strength.
2) I rarely add salt into a mix because I have no way of knowing what dish I’ll be making and how salty its ingredients are already. If it’s a narrow purpose mix, like taco seasoning for example, then I might make an exception. Call me a salt control freak if you’re so inclined – I’ve had salt make the difference between great food and terrible too many times.
Staring at the label of an imported brand, I see saffron, rose petals, grains of paradise, nigella seeds, fennel seeds, monk pepper, galangal, orris root, white peppercorns, anise star, lavender, ginger, cinnamon, true cinnamon, brown mustard, nutmeg, mace, cardamom, and allspice.
I had to look some of those up!
So that’s not happening. Not in my kitchen, that is. If that’s what I want, I’ll need to buy it.
True cinnamon, however, a.k.a. ceylon cinnamon, was doable organically from the grocery store so I went for it. To me it tastes less bright and more savory, if that makes sense.
I found one recipe that called for twenty (20) strands of saffron per little bit of blend. Yeah, that makes it more expensive than printer ink. In the interests of my budget, I’m not using saffron. I’ll save it for paella and Persian rice.
I did it my way.
You know me, I found a hundred recipes, dove into history books, sorted through and analyzed patterns, and then experimented and iterated until I was happy. I should thank family and friends who were repeatedly subjected to the different versions along the way.
I use whole spices when I have them given they stay fresher longer and so taste better, especially when lightly toasted. About 5 minutes over medium heat, the toasted smell should tell you when it’s ready.
TIP: we cook with our senses and that includes common sense. If your spices start to burn or smoke, pull the pan back, turn down the heat a bit. And stir! I’ve found through personal experience the uh-oh now what? and stare method doesn’t work nearly as well.
Burnt spices are nasty. Start over if you must.
(Of course I have a guitar-shaped Lodge skillet for toasting spices or cooking an egg. Do you know me?)
Once that cools enough, I crack open the cardamom pods and shake the little seeds into the mix. All of the toasted bits into a spice grinder and pulse until it’s powder but stop before it’s dust. And if your spice grinder doubles as your coffee grinder, wipe it out well beforehand.
Then stir everything together until it’s well-mixed.
Seriously, try this on meat some time, especially on the grill, let’s say about one tablespoon per pound of meat. Mind blowing.
Here’s a side dish I like to make: chickpeas, carrots, and onion with ras el hanout and honey.
Ras el Hanout
Ras el hanout is a spice blend from North Africa, particularly Morocco, that infuses a dish with bold, warm, complex, and earthy flavors without being overly spicy.
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
- 1 tablespoon cardamom pods about 10-12
- 1 teaspoon allspice berries about 10
- 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves about 8-10
- 1 teaspoon ceylon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
In a pan over medium heat, toast the black peppercorns, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cardamom pods, allspice berries, and whole cloves, about 5 minutes taking care not to let them burn.
Once cool, crack open the cardamom pods and put the seeds inside into a spice grinder along with the other toasted spices.
Pulse grind until powder but not so much that it turns to dust.
Mix with the ground spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, paprika, ginger, and turmeric).
Store in a sealed container away from light or heat.