Ras El Hanout
Today I’m sharing with you one of the spice blends that is a key part of my cooking arsenal….ras el hanout! This blend hails from Morocco and is used throughout North African cooking. Ras El Hanout quite literally means “top of the shop” and is supposed to represent the most coveted blend the spice merchant has to offer….I like to think of it like a Moroccan curry.
And, like curry, there are countless variations of this North African specialty. My chicken thighs from earlier this week feature one version of this spice blend, but each shop, family, and region has its own list of ingredients sometimes reaching upwards of 40 spices! The flavor is nuanced and complex, a heady mixture that’s difficult to describe. It tastes to me like the smell of walking into a spice shop! Rosebuds may be added for a floral touch, grains of paradise for a peppery note, lavender for aromatic purposes; some spice merchants go so far as to add spices, herbs or other extractions that have aphrodisiac effects…clearly trying to get repeat customers.
That said, my shortened blend from this week is an easy one, and I keep a big batch on hand for summer grilling, to spice up a rice dish or flavor a quick pot of lentils. Ras el hanout is the basis for many a Moroccan tagine and lends itself to a slow braising process. I particularly like it with chicken, pork and certain hearty fish – it benefits from pairing with a meaty base but not one that will overwhelm the combination of delicate flavors. It’s also beautiful with starchy vegetables – particularly squash and corn – where it highlights the vegetables’ own natural sweetness.