My new favorite spice blend!
Ras el Hanout (which means “top of the shop” in Arabic) is a Moroccan spice mixture used in their cuisine to flavor everything from grilled meats, vegetable tagines, to a hashish candy called majoun. Traditionally the number of spices used is at least sixteen and up to more than a hundred.
In her amazing book, The Food of Morocco, Paula Wolfert, one of my great culinary heroes, (more about her another time!) has pared down the number of spices to make a delicious facsimile of the real deal. I’ve become rather obsessed with it, putting it in everything from bowls of yogurt and peaches to lamb’s quarters stir fries with goat milk. I’ve been mixing it with honey and butter on toast, and even sprinkling it into my Earl Grey tea with cream! You will be seeing it as an addition, or a suggested “optional” addition in some upcoming recipes. Any of these spices are available online from Mountain Rose, if you don’t have them handy.
After assembling the spices, doing the actual work only takes about 15 minutes, and less if you’re using a electric coffee/spice grinder. Here’s her method and one of her recipes for “Faux Ras el Hanout”, along with my notes as to a few changes I made, and a few more I will make next time I make it, along with the reasons why.
Paula Wolfert’s Faux Ras el Hanout #2
2 tablespoons cumin seeds, preferably Moroccan
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
15 cardamon pods
1 tablespoon green anise seed
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
1 teaspoon white peppercorns
One 2-inch piece Ceylon cinnamon stick or ground Ceylon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1. Toast the cumin seeds (unnecessary if they are Moroccan), coriander seeds, and cardamon pods in a heavy bottomed skillet over low heat for 5 minutes, or until aromatic and beginning to crackle and pop.
2. Grind the toasted spices, anise seed, and peppercorns in a food processor or spice mill until pulverized. Add the cinnamon stick (if using, and grind again. Force as much of the mixture as you can through a fine sieve, discard the debris. Mix with the remaining ground spices, and store in a closed jar in a cool, dark place.
Here is what the spices look like all together, before being mixed up and looking quite a bit less colorful.
I didn’t use turmeric, as Kiva is somewhat allergic to it.
I used ground white pepper, because I didn’t have any whole.
I used Cassia cinnamon this time, just because I prefer it in most instances. Next time I will try Ceylon cinnamon (true cinnamon).
I tried using a food processor to grind the spices, but I wasn’t happy with how much spice matter was not ground up. A coffee grinder would probably work much better, but I prefer to use a mortar and pestle than to clean out the coffee grinder before and after using it for spices.
Also, next time I would toast the cardamon first, then the coriander, then the cumin, as they vary so much in size it seems like they would benefit from being toasted separately, or at least sequentially. But even if you prefer to toast them all at once as Paula does, the result will be delicious!
Although it’s not as authentic, I think leaving out the turmeric actually results in a more versatile blend. (Something I want to mix into tea and strawberry jam! Not sure that would work with the turmeric in there!) But that’s your call. Play with it yourself, and see what you think!