What I love most about my Middle Eastern kitchen here in Kuwait is how it smells.
Yes, it’s clean, so there’s the background smell of cleaner (which I actually love), lol. But it’s the other smells that captivate me…
The heady aroma of spices mingling with the soft scent of sweet fresh fruit and the bright smell of freshly ground Turkish coffee. Every time I pass the shelf where I keep my canister of Turkish coffee I can’t help but stop for a moment and inhale deeply.
It’s funny how smells can bring you back in time, triggering memories of people or places. My kitchen here smells the same as my mother-in-law’s kitchen did in Damascus. It’s lovely.
On days when I’m mixing my own spice blends, the smell of spice is particularly intoxicating. I don’t always make my own spice mixes – sometimes I buy pre-made mixes from the market – but there are certain mixes I prefer to make myself, not only because I can ensure that the spices are super fresh, but also because it allows me to customize my mixes.
Here’s my Ras el Hanout spice mix, all blended up.
Ras el Hanout, a Moroccan spice blend, is one such mix. The name translates from Arabic to “head of the shop” (also known as top of the shelf), since it’s all the best spices in the shop that go into the mix. The blend can have 30 or more different spices, but the interesting thing about this and any spice mix is that you can have 10 shops or families who each make their own mix slightly differently based on their own preferences or what they have available, and each blend is still considered authentic. Take note of that because it generally means that spice mixes (especially those with so many ingredients), are pretty forgiving. If you don’t have one or two of the spices on hand, don’t worry so much about it.
If you’re wondering what to do with Ras el Hanout, it is pretty versatile. Use it to season couscous, rice, or other grains. Sprinkle it on fish, chicken, or red meat as a dry rub before grilling, or mix it with a little oil and use it as a wet rub. It’s fabulous in any number of tagines (stewed dishes), and will lend an exotic flavor to soups as well.
The recipe below is my favorite mix for Ras el Hanout, but like I mentioned earlier, I don’t worry so much if I don’t have one or two of the spices on hand. If you want to compare a few recipes, here are some other Ras el Hanout recipes from around the web:
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 2 teaspoons ground chili powder
- 2 teaspoons ground paprika
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons ground allspice
- 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground orris root
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground mace
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
- 3/4 teaspoon ground fennel seed
- 3/4 teaspoon ground anise seed
- 1/2 teaspoon ground fenugreek
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
- 2 dried bay leaves, ground in a spice mill and strained through a fine mesh sieve (about 1/8 + 1/16 teaspoon ground)
- 1 teaspoon organic, culinary-grade dried lavender buds, ground in a spice mill and strained through a fine mesh sieve (about 1/2 teaspoon ground)
- 1 tablespoon organic, culinary-grade dried rose petals, ground in a spice mill and strained through a fine mesh sieve (about 1 1/4 teaspoon ground)
- Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.
- Store the spice mix in an airtight container in the pantry.
Salt: I don't include salt in my recipe because I find it easier to season a dish if my spice mix is unsalted (so I know how much salt I need to add). However, feel free to add salt to this mix if you prefer.