Recently, out of a desire for a new taste from a different part of the world, I have been trying to recapture the flavours from a distant holiday in Marakesh. I’ve been working on a vegetable tagine, and during my research, which has led me the believe there is no such thing as a definitive classic tagine recipe, I found that many of the popular online recipes are not at all what I remember from the side street restaurants of Marakesh. The spice combinations in different recipes vary wildly, and many recipes resemble a thick tomatoey spiced stew, which does not resemble the chunky, aromatic vegetables in the delicately spiced broth that I recall. I want to try and get this dish at least half way authentic, or at the very least, resembling my memory… so I have taken inspiration from a number of recipes and writings about Moroccan food, and I’ve come up with a simple spice combination that I’m not ashamed to call Ras-El-Hanout.
It turns out that this classic spice mix can combine anywhere between 10 and 100 different spices, so here’s my version which is fairly easy to put together and store for a short while. I had 13 out of the 14 spices already in my cupboard, and the 14th one, the rose petals, is a bit of a wild card so I wouldn’t worry too much if you can’t find them.*
Makes 50g of spice mix, which is about 7 tbsp.
- 1 tbsp coriander seeds
- 2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 tsp of fennel seeds
- 1 tsp of fenugreek seeds
- 1 tsp of black peppercorns
- 6 cardamom pods
- 6 cloves
- a 2 inch cinnamon stick or 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 – 1 teaspoon crushed chilli flakes (depending on how hot you like your food)
- 1 tsp of dried rose petals (indulgent, very pretty and optional!)
- 1/2 a whole nutmeg, grated
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1 tsp of ground turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
Either in a dry frying pan or a baking tin, gather all the whole spices: coriander, cumin, fennel, fenugreek, peppercorns, cardamom, cloves and the cinnamon stick. Either dry fry, shaking regularly for 5 minutes or bake at 150 degrees c for 5-7 minutes, shaking once during baking. This will lightly toast the spices and release their full flavour.
Tip the toasted spices into an electric spice mill along with the chilli flakes and the rose petals, and grind to a fine powder.
Pour the spice mix into a jar with the remaining ground spices, the paprika, turmeric and ginger, and the grated nutmeg. Screw the lid on tight and shake the jar to combine the spice mixture. This should keep perfectly well for a few months in an air tight jar, ready to use in any authentic north African dishes.
This authentic spice blend, made with love and care from mostly organic spices is difficult to cost, because of the small amounts of so many of the ingredients. Good spices are an investment, buying several packets or jars of organic whole spices can soon add up, but they are mostly used sparingly and transform dishes in such a way that the cost is more than worth it (always try and buy whole spices, they go further and have a much longer life). If buying all these ingredients at once is a bit daunting and expensive, just add one or two to your shopping list every now and then and you’ll soon have a good stock to play with. Making a blend like this makes good use of lots of ingredients and all together would most probably come to no more than £1, even including the indulgent rose petals!
* I had been comparing spice blends, many of the more complex of which contained various floral elements, rose petals and dried lavender buds. I was largely decided on omitting these ingredients, mainly for cost and convenience (I had no idea where to get them!) and then whilst scouring the shelves in Waitrose on an impromptu dash for essentials, I noticed a little pot of rose petals in the spice aisle. I thought it’d be nice to add this floral touch to the spice mix, so I picked them up. Feel free to add a tsp of lavender buds too if you have any to hand!