Citizens, Ras el hanout is the most complex spice mélange in the world, originating from North Africa and most closely identified with Moroccan food.
It plays a similar role in North African cuisine as garam masala does in Indian cuisine. The name is Arabic for “head of the shop” (similar to the English expression “top-shelf”) and implies a mixture of the best spices the seller has to offer.
Ras el hanout is used in many savory dishes, sometimes rubbed on beef or fish, or stirred into rice. Ras el hanout also goes well with lamb, game, tagines, and couscous and even for seasoning an apple pie in place of plain cinnamon!
There is no definitive composition of spices that makes up ras el hanout. Each shop, company, or family have their own blend. Commonly used ingredients in ras el hanout include cardamom, cumin, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, allspice, dry ginger, chili peppers, coriander seed, peppercorn, paprika, fenugreek, and dry turmeric.
Rare spices can include ash berries, chufa, grains of paradise, orris root, monk’s pepper, cubebs, dried rosebud, fennel seed or aniseed, galangal and long pepper.
A mediocre version of the blend typically has 4-6 common spices in equal proportions for the recipe, while a good one has at least a dozen common and rare spices made up in different proportions. Ingredients may be toasted before being ground or pounded in a mortar and mixed together.
Mine is the most complex version of ras el hanout you’ll ever find in English and possibly even Arabic – it uses ***36*** spices in my masterfully decadent recipe! I was seriously debating never to share this, but decided in the end that the world deserves it for posterity. 😉
Even Paula Wolfert, the doyenne of Moroccan and Mediterranean cuisine, has offered her praise regarding my recipe – it was one of the greatest moments of my culinary life when she did so! FYI, you can purchase most of these spices from Kalustyan’s.
Citizens – I hope you will try this recipe, just once – it is truly supernatural in its level of flavor complexity! 🙂
Battle on – The Generalissimo
Seeds from 32 cardamom pods
4 tsp each powdered ginger, cinnamon (if possible, use 1 teaspoon powdered sandalwood in place of 1 of the cinnamon teaspoons or 1-2 drops of pure sandalwood oil, available from some health-food shops, which will give the same heady flavor) and coriander seed
2.5 tsp each black peppercorns, cumin seeds
2 teaspoon each fenugreek seeds, sansho pepper (JH substitution for an Ash Berry that is completely unavailable in the U.S. – the taste is very close), lavender, ajwain seed, crushed bay leaves, white peppercorns, allspice, orris root (if at all humanly possible, get this pre-ground – it is EXTREMELY difficult to grind in a spice grinder!)
1 tsp each powdered nutmeg, hot red pepper flakes, dried rosebuds, kalonji seed, cubeb pepper, long pepper, mace, Tasmanian pepper, black cumin seeds
½ teaspoon each grains of paradise, black cardamom seeds, star anise points, galangal powder, shichimi 7-spice blend (found in Japanese supermarkets – contains red chili pepper, to which is typically added – mandarin orange peel, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, hemp seeds, nori and ground sansho (a relative of Sichuan pepper)
For the whole spices, put all the ingredients in a nonstick pan over medium-high heat and toast, stirring constantly, until the mixture emits a pleasant aroma, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Using a spice grinder, reduce all ingredients to a fine powder. Sift to remove fibrous elements. Place in a tightly sealed container and store in a cool, dark place.