A veritable spice rack in itself, ras el hanout is a rich, colorful aromatic that is used to season savory dishes, including meats, veggies, couscous, pasta, rice, and stews called tagines. While many different versions of the spice blend are used throughout Northwest Africa (known as the Maghreb), it is most closely associated with Moroccan cuisine.

Ras el hanout is Arabic for "head of the store," which is kind of like "top-shelf." Sometimes containing upward of 30 ingredients, including ground spices, dried roots, and leaves, each Middle Eastern spice blend is unique to its maker. Moroccans use ras el hanout to add vibrant golden color and warm, fragrant spice to all sorts of dishes, including traditional foods such as rfissa, couscous tfaya, and mrouzia. Read on for how to create this spice blend at home and all of its various uses.

How to Make Ras el Hanout

Ras el hanout, a spice mix from North Africa

Each spice shop has its own version of ras el hanout, but the standard ingredients include the seven Cs: caraway, cardamom, cinnamon, chilies, cloves, coriander, and cumin. Fennel, ginger, nutmeg, paprika, pepper, and turmeric are also common, which creates a flavor that is earthy and woody as well as sweet and floral. Authentic regional recipes include native plants like galanga root, cubeb berries, whole mace, guinea pepper, ash tree fruit, dried rose petals, and anise seeds. Bon Appetite offers this recipe of easy-to-find ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 3/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

Of course, you can always just buy it from places like The Spice House, which blends turmeric, pepper, cardamom, nutmeg, sea salt, ginger, mace, allspice, and saffron in its recipe. According to PepperScale, both garam masala or curry powder Indian spice mixes and a pinch of cayenne pepper powder can be substituted for ras el hanout.

Tagines

Colourful handmade Moroccan tagine dishes at a souk market in Marrakesh

Sometimes spelled "tajine," tagine refers both to the ceramic or clay cone-shaped cooking vessel and the stew that is prepared in it. (Word to the wise—if you're thinking of buying one, get a heat diffuser to go with it so you can use it on the stove.) Tagines start with a base layer of onions, garlic, and oil, then a layer of meat and vegetables, plus spices like ras el hanout, and water to create a flavorful sauce. No tagine? No problem. Liz’s Lamb Tagine and Once Upon a Chef's Moroccan Chicken Tagine both use pans instead.

Grilled Meats

Moroccan chicken skewers

Use ras el hanout as a spice rub on lamb, chicken, beef, pork, or even fish. Make a paste with a tablespoon of ras el hanout and a few drops of olive oil and rub it all over your meat before throwing on the grill. This Grilled Moroccan Chicken recipe creates a delish marinade by combining a teaspoon of ras el hanout with a few tablespoons of olive oil, a minced garlic clove, and a three-fingered pinch of kosher salt. Better yet, put it in a pita pocket!

Roasted Veggies

Moroccan cous cous with veggies

Sprinkle ras el hanout over vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, or cauliflower before roasting. Aubergine fans should try this Slow-Baked Moroccan Eggplant recipe, which combines caramelized garlic, shallots, tomatoes, and ras el hanout for a vegetarian entree or rustic side dish.

Soup

Moroccan harira soup

Add flavor to any soup that you wouldn't mind tasting cinnamon, cloves, mace, and nutmeg in. Pumpkin and butternut squash go particularly well, like in this Moroccan Pumpkin, Chickpea, and Tomato Soup. Like lentils? Make this vegan lentil soup with potatoes and spinach that promises to be both hearty and healthy.

Dips and Sauces

Assorted Meat Marinades: Buttermilk, Red Wine and Spiced Moroccan Style

Blend ras el hanout with softened butter, sour cream, or plain yogurt for a quick and easy dipping sauce that goes great with grilled meats. A Fork and a Pencil suggests stirring "half a cup of Greek yogurt, a teaspoon of ras el hanout, and a squirt of lemon juice" together.

Mrouzia

Mrouzia - Moroccan Tagine with Raisins, Almonds and Honey

Lamb, honey, and raisins may make strange bedfellows to Westernized palates, but somehow the ras el hanout's pungent, warm flavor marries them all seamlessly in mrouzia, another tagine out of Morocco. In fact, sometimes ras el hanout is called mrouzia spice because its intense flavor is so prevalent in this dish that is traditionally served at the Muslim festival of sacrifice, Eid al-Adha.

Couscous

Homemade Vegetarian Moroccan Couscous with Zuchinni and Carrots

Here are some little known facts about couscous: Made from semolina, Moroccan is one of the three main types of couscous, which also includes Israeli and Lebanese. It's tiny grains cook quite quickly. Stir a teaspoon of el ras hanout into a cup of couscous before cooking. Add some roasted veggies and you've got dinner, baby!

Popcorn Topper

Close up of woman eating popcorn with remote control tv.

For a savory snack, sprinkle some ras el hanout on your popcorn. Instead of spice, it adds a warm flavor that is woody, pungent, bitter, and sweet all at the same time.

Dessert

loaf cake

That's right, this versatile blend of spices can also be incorporated into sweets, such as these apple hand pies and this loaf cake.

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