Time to shift our attention to North Africa – the oft-neglected ‘poor sister’ of Mediterranean cuisine – and discover the delights of stuff like the region’s trademark stew, Tajine. But, first, we have to learn about the region’s trademark flavour tradition and universal spice blend: Ras el Hanout!
Here is the simple, delicious secret to the unique savoury-sweet stews and curries of North Africa! Ras el Hanout – which simply means ‘The Head of the Shop’, or, the best spice blend in the house. Every cook in the region has their own recipe, but all have a few common, easily accessible ingredients in common: Cardamom, Cloves, Cinnamon, Ground Chili Peppers, Coriander and Cumin. Depending on where you are in North Africa, Turmeric, Black Pepper and paprika may also be added.
Here’s a recipe which gives you rough proportions for the most common Ras el Hanout constituents:
1 teaspoon ground Cumin
1 teaspoon ground Ginger
1 teaspoon Salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon ground Cardamon
1/2 teaspoon ground Coriander
1/2 teaspoon Cayenne or Red Chili Pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground Allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground Cloves
Use as much or as little as you like in your dishes. Vary the Cayenne and the Black Pepper to adjust the heat to your taste.
You can easily see how this spice blend will complement dishes like North African savoury Rice and the signature dish of the region, Tajine Stew, perfectly, Tajine, which blends savoury meats flavours with the sweet of dried fruits is unique among Mediterranean cuisines. We’ll cover making a Tajine stew, and the correct technique of cooking properly in the clay vessel of the same name, in a future installment of Mediterranean Mysteries. Meanwhile, try Ras el Hanout as the key flavour for an amazing-tasting Savoury Rice!
And experiment with your own Ras el Hanout blend. Go with ages-old tradition! Make it your blend all your own!
~ Maggie J.