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Archive for April 7th, 2010

Ras el-Hanout

Ras el-Hanout, meaning literally “top of the shop”, is a blend of herbs and spices that is used to flavour food across North Africa.  There are many recipes online and all are slightly different but have quite a number of ingredients in common.  Ras el-Hanout is now widely available in specialist and ethnic shops but as I had almost all the ingredients in my store cupboard I decided I would have a go at making my own.  The one ingredient I did not own was dried rose petals, but I felt I would like to include them for the exotic fragrance they would bring so I was pleased to track some down in a local Turkish Cypriot supermarket.

I found the mixtures on two websites (the Epicentre and the BBC) particularly helpful and my mixture is broadly based on these recipes, plus the optional addition of lavender which appears in some of the mixtures and which I feel also gives fragrance associated with the Mediterranean region.  The ground cloves and black cardamom pod are also optional.  Sometimes Ras el-Hanout mixtures list more unusual ingredients.  These are often difficult to obtain, but are less essential so they are not included in my mixture.

A word of warning:  the essential oil in Lavender is considered to be unsuitable for those who are pregnant as it can bring on premature labour.  It would be wise if the Lavender was omitted when serving a dish flavoured with Ras el-Hanout to someone who is or might be pregnant.  (Keep Lavender ready ground for adding separately.  Add pinch or two to the spice mixture as needed rather than including it in the whole mixture.)

Ras el-Hanout

1tsp ground cumin
1tsp ground ginger
1tsp turmeric
¾tsp ground cinnamon
¾tsp freshly ground black pepper
½tsp ground coriander seeds
½tsp cayenne
½tsp ground allspice
½tsp ground nutmeg
½tbsp fennel seeds
2tbsp dried Damascan rose petals (but I would add more in future, say 5g/½oz)
½tsp mustard seeds
2 blades mace
8-10 green cardamom pods
1 black cardamom pod (optional)
½ tsp cloves (optional)
Keep separately and add a pinch as required (see note above):
Ground dried lavender (optional)

1. Gently roast all the ingredients over a low heat in a metal frying pan.  This should not take long: just until the seeds start to pop.  Toss gently once to ensure even cooking.  When the seeds pop again remove the pan immediately before they burn. 

2.  While it is still warm grind the mixture to a fine powder in a grinder or pestle and mortar.

3. When cool store in an airtight container.

4.  Use as a flavouring for North African savoury dishes and couscous.

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