Tasting Jerusalem January 2014: A Top Shelf Spice

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January Ingredient: Ras El Hanout

As we enjoy the top of the year, we thought it only fitting to pick a spice blend whose name translates to “top of the shop”. Ras el hanout, pronounced rahs-el-hanoot is Morocco’s “national spice blend,” writes Mourad Lahlou, chef and owner of Michelin-starred Aziza restaurant in San Francisco, in “Mourad: New Moroccan” (Artisan Books, 2011).

Ras El Hanout

As a sweet and hot spice blend, the recipe is as individual as the cook. Blends can be up to 120 spices, but the foundation is typically cumin, coriander, turmeric, ginger, cardamom and nutmeg. A sampling of other ras el hanout ingredients include dried rosebuds, mace, cloves, allspice, cinnamon, and black and cubeb peppercorns.

“(Ras el hanout) allows the cook to manipulate dishes using one spice blend without having to deal with a pantry with a very extended spice inventory,” says Lahlou, whose recipe in the cookbook has more than 20 ingredients.

Another example of multi-cultural influences on the flavors of Jerusalem, Ottolenghi and Tamimi point out on page 132 that the spice blend came to Jerusalem by way of North African Jews.

Ras El Hanout

Ras El HanoutIn Morocco, Lahlou writes, the spice blend is used exclusively in slow-cooked, saucy dishes. He suggests using it as a dry rub for poultry or steaks, adding a bit to rice at the beginning of the cooking process and adding it to yogurt dips for flatbread and vegetables. He even suggests using it with chocolate desserts. (Simmer a small amount with heavy cream, strain, chill, and add sugar, then whip before serving.)

Marcus Samuelsson, chef and author of  the cookbook “The Soul of a New Cuisine” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006), says the blend in his recipe is “the embodiment of North African cuisine” and includes cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper, nutmeg, cardamom, and cloves.

A little ras el hanout goes a long way, so start with less than you think you need.

If you want to make ras el hanout yourself, there are many recipes online or use the ones from Lahlou’s cookbook, Paula Wolfert’s from “The Food of Morocco” (HaperCollins, 2011), or Samuelsson’s  “The Soul of A New Cuisine”. You can also purchase the spice blend at ethnic grocers or online. Zamouri Spices (zamourispices.com) has one that sounds authentic, but we haven’t used it ourselves.

January Ras El Hanout Recipes Include:

ras el hanout

Photo credit: Jonathan Lovekin © 2012

Watercress and chickpea soup with rose water and ras el hanout, pg 132-133: the only recipe in the Jerusalem cookbook specifically using ras el hanout. Ottolenghi and Tamimi strongly suggest adding cinnamon to your mix for this recipe, if your blend doesn’t already include it.

And in this 2010 article by Ottolenghi in The Guardian, you can find the recipe for the soup, in case you don’t already own the cookbook and he talks a bit about the recipe and the spice blend.

A few more tempting recipes using this top shelf spice blend:

Chicken with Figs in Ras el Hanout and Couscous by Mourad Lahlou

Moroccan Chicken with Olives and Preserved Lemons by Joan Nathan

Lamb Kebabs, Hummus, Masbacha and Grilled Pitta

Vertical Wine Bistro’s Israeli Couscous


Here are our “rules” for the group (there really aren’t any except to cook and share your experiences.)

Group Guidelines:

  1. How often will we cook: We’ll pick a new set of recipes monthly to allow us all to fit in the cooking when we can and to find any ingredients that might not be available at your typical grocery store stop.
  2. Do I need to cook all the recipes?: We offer up several recipes to fit your taste buds, menus, schedules – cook as many or as few as you desire. But once you start cooking from this book, you probably won’t stop!
  3. What do I need to participateJerusalem: A Cookbook Plus an interest in cooking, willingness to try new flavors, and an electronic device that communicates via the Internet. We will always post the month’s information in a blog post via omgyummy.com so you can subscribe to Beth’s blog to be guaranteed to receive it or just check in frequently via the Facebook page or Twitter hashtag #TastingJrslm
  4. How to share what you cook: Tasting Jerusalem is open to anyone. You do not have to be a blogger or food professional of any sort. But if you have a camera, we encourage you to share photos of your dishes on Twitter or the Facebook page or Instagram, using the hashtag #TastingJrslm – we all love to see the results of your kitchen adventures. New to these types of social media? Just drop me an email beth (at) omgyummy (dot) com – I’ll be glad to help you get started.
  5. What recipes can be published and how to publish: We expect to cook through most, if not all, of the recipes in the cookbook over time. As such, for those of us blogging or writing about our experiences in any way, it’s important that we don’t include the recipe in our blog posts, unless Ten Speed Press has approved its use. The goal of the group is to learn together and enrich our experience using this cookbook, not create an online version of it. We are in touch with Ten Speed Press to find out which recipes we can post. For an example of another group that writes about their cooking but doesn’t post each recipe, please visit French Fridays with Dorie. If you legitimately change a recipe, rewrite the headnote and instructions, and choose to share it, please say you’ve adapted it, giving credit to the source including a link to purchase the cookbook.
  6. What if I have questions? Sarene and I will be monitoring the Facebook page and Twitter hashtag #TastingJrslm almost continuously so just leave us a note there. If you see a question and know the answer, jump on in before us. Part of the fun of the group will be each of us sharing our own knowledge, perspectives and ideas.
  7. What to include if you write a blog post: If you do post about what you cook, please let us know – we will link to it. And feel free to post it on the Facebook page and Twitter with the #TastingJrslm hashtag. We’d also appreciate it if you would include this verbiage in the context of your post:

“Tasting Jerusalem is a virtual cooking community exploring the vibrant flavors and cuisine of the Middle East through the lens of Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Ottolenghi and Tamimi published by Ten Speed Press. You can follow along and cook with us by subscribing to omgyummy.com, following the hashtag #TastingJrslm on Twitter and Instagram, liking our Facebook page or joining our Google+ Community and finally checking out all of our groups’ dishes on Pinterest.”

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6 Responses to Tasting Jerusalem January 2014: A Top Shelf Spice

  1. susan @ the wimpy vegetarian April 19, 2015 at 11:24 am #

    How interesting – I knew about the endless array of ras el hanout blends, but didn’t know some of the history behind this wonderful mix. Thanks for the education, and thanks for more recipes I can try!! My husband would love the chicken and figs one!

  2. Deb January 15, 2014 at 11:15 am #

    I have not yet tried Ras El Hanout but your wonderful history and description has motivated me to pull out Jerusalem and explore a bit more!

    • Beth Lee January 16, 2014 at 11:42 am #

      It’s a very intriguing blend, one that I bet you would enjoy creating yourself and I am sure you would find many interesting savory dishes to use it in. The watercress soup recipe from the book is supposed to be terrific – I am anxious to give that a try.

  3. gretchen January 14, 2014 at 6:13 pm #

    ahhhhhh….Ras El Hanout, How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. YES! to chicken and figs with R.e.H ;> I must try Joan Nathan’s Moroccan Chicken with Olives and Preserved Lemons. I also have a lamb recipe around somewhere. This is a wonderful sophistocated spice mixture which used to be difficult to come by. Thank heaven it has been discovered by spice agents. Moroccan recipes are liberated to us by the availability of this spice. The last meal I made before remodeling our kitchen in 2010 was chicken and figs with R.e.H – A few months later, the scent of the same wafted through our home in celebration. If you have not tried one of Beth’s cited recipes, above, get busy! Celebrate. Any night of the week!

    Beth, Thanks for the delicuous reminder! I now know what I will cook for Shabbat this week. ;>


    • Beth Lee January 16, 2014 at 11:40 am #

      Your enthusiasm always makes me want to stand up and start cooking Gretchen. I plan to post your comment on our Tasting Jerusalem FB and G+ pages to spread your infectious excitement. I too am intrigued by the Joan Nathan and Lahlou recipes. If you find the lamb one – that also excites me. Please share! And do let me know how Shabbat dinner comes out 🙂

      I have two versions of the blend in the house – one from the Moroccan restaurant in Mountain View and one from a spice vendor in Israel that my son brought back. Each is quite different and I look forward to experimenting with both!

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