Ras el Hanout literally translates as “head of the shop”, probably due to the long list of herbs and spices (30 to be exact!) added to make this powerful blend for so many Moroccan and Middle Eastern dishes, but in reality, it actually means “top shelf” – the very best blend on offer. One of the ingredients includes a golden cantharides beetle that is an aphrodisiac also known as the Spanish fly. I’m not sure how it adds flavour, but I can only imagine it having an interesting after-effect for some!
If you are lucky to be travelling through some of the Moroccan spice souk markets, you will certainly stumble across many merchants selling their own house blend of Ras el Hanout or also known as mrouzia spice which is used famously in the lamb and honey dish, mrouzia.
Some will leave out the rose petals and add lavender instead, while others will produce a woodier blend leaning more towards cinnamon and mace. The level of spice also varies depending on how much cayenne they add. Despite the variety of blends, there is no doubt that market-bought or homemade are best rather than store-bought (mass-produced) versions that have lost their aroma and strength in taste.
Dry roasting the seeds and whole spices add that extra flavour and aroma element to the blend, but if you rather skip this part then simply grind all the ingredients skipping this step. The blend will still be amazing but have a less “nuttier” flavour compared to when roasted.
Although my ingredients list seems long (even after scaling it back), most of the spices are easy to find in most countries outside of Morocco. The beauty of making your own is knowing that it is completely gluten-free; tastes & smells better and you can customise the flavours to your liking after several tastings.
So, you’ve gone to the trouble of making it, now how do you use it?
Ras el Hanout is used extensively in tangines, rubs for grilled fish and meat, vegetables, couscous, pides, meat balls (koftas) and soups, but if you fall in love with this blend, you’ll be adding it to scrambled eggs, omelettes, savoury fillings, rice, pizza, potatoes, etc, in no time!
Homemade Ras el Hanout Spice Blend
For one 100ml jar:
- ½ tablespoon coriander seeds
- ½ tablespoon cumin seeds
- ½ tablespoon fennel seeds
- 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
- 4 cardamon pods, crushed slightly
- 3 cloves
- ½ tablespoon turmeric or a few strands of saffron
- 5 dried rose petals
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon powder
- 1 ½ teaspoon mace powder
- ½ tablespoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon white pepper
- 1 teaspoon ginger powder
- 1 teaspoon galangal (optional)
- 1 teaspoon cayenne
1. Dry roast the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, peppercorns, cloves and cardamom pods in a wide pan stirring often until their aroma is released.
2. If using saffron strands, add them to the warm roasted spices. This will release the saffron gently into the spices.
3. Transfer to a food processor or mortar and pestle. Add the remaining ingredients and blend or grind to a fine powder.
4. Transfer to a dry, air-tight glass jar and seal tightly.
- Makes enough for a 100ml jar
- Store away from direct sunlight in a cool area
- Keeps for 2-3 months
Use Ras el Hanout in the lamb mince topping for the gluten-free pide recipe