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What to cook with ras el hanout

— Join Ainsley Harriott in Ainsley’s Mediterranean Cookbook, Sundays 8.30pm on SBS Food or stream it on SBS On Demand. Catch his stop in Morocco in episode 5, Sunday 20 September —

When Ainsley Harriott heads to the spice stalls of a bustling souk in Morocco, he’s after one particular vibrant ingredient: ras el hanout, a blend of up to 30 or even more spices, the exact blend often a spice seller’s secret.

“Ras el hanout means ‘head of the shop’ and implies that it will be a mixture of the best spices the seller has to offer,” says Harriott, as he asks a spice merchant what’s in his particular blend. It has, the spice seller says, 35 spices, including cinnamon, cardamom, star anise, hibiscus, dried berries and peppercorns.

It is a heady mix that, as Harriott discovers when he inhales the aroma of a jar of ground ras el hanout, “just gets right into your senses. That is so, so wonderful.”

Hailing from Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, ras el hanout varies from shop to shop and household to household, although cumin and coriander seeds, cinnamon, turmeric, ginger and nutmeg are common ingredients, with other additions including rosebuds, oregano, star anise, mace , chillies, paprika, cloves, ash berries, cubebs, peppercorns and fennel.

Depending on the blend, it can vary from vibrant orange to a brown-grey. It’s easy to buy, or if you’d like to make your own you could try this recipe from Sydney chef Hassan M’Souli, the version SBS host Shane Delia shares in his lamb and pine nut kibbeh recipe or chef Pierre Khodja’s version in his royal couscous recipe.

So how do you use this heady blend? It works in both sweet and savory dishes: here are some more of our favourites, from rich lamb tagines to cauliflower salad and a sweet olive oil cake.

Moroccan spiced cauliflower salad with buckwheat, mint and pistachios

Buckwheat, a nutty, gluten-free grain is paired with charry, caramelised cauliflower, rich with flavor from the ras el hanout. Mint, pistachios and pomegranate seeds, if they are in season, round out this flavour-packed Moroccan salad.

Barbecued spice-crusted tuna with tahini dressing

Here’s an Aussie twist on using this North African favourite: grilled tuna steak, coated with a mix of crushed coriander and cumin seeds, sesame seeds and ras el-hanout.

Chicken thighs in green olive and tomato sauce

A twist on a family favourite, this recipe can be made with other meats, too, or the sauce served as it was originally, as a vegetarian side dish.

Barbecued pork ribs

Adrian Richardson’s rich pork ribs are marinated in chilli, ginger, garlic and ras el hanout, and caramelised on a hot barbecue.

BBQ corn on the cob with ras el hanout and preserved lemon butter

“It’s so powerful, you know, I just want to be able to do something quite simple,” says Ainsley Harriott when he cooks this charry, aromatic dish with his spice shop purchase. The ras el hanout is used along with three citrusy elements: lemon zest, lemon juice and preserved lemon, plus a little chilli, in the butter, which is rubbed all over the corn cobs before they are re-covered in their husks and grilled.

Lamb, quince and saffron tagine

A lamb tagine is a classic use of ras el hanout. In this version, from the party magazine archives, the combination of fragrant spices, fruit and honey helps to cut through the richness of the lamb, and the resulting braise has a wonderful balance of sweet and sour flavours.

Lamb tagine with stewed apricots and prunes (mrouzia)

Slow-cooked tender lamb is at the heart of this tagine from Hassan M’Souli. The ras el hanout is used along with saffron in the marinade for the lamb.

Tfaya with lamb tagine and couscous

We’ve included three lamb tagines because there are just so many good ways to embrace this classic comfort food – and this one takes things next-level with tfaya, honey-spiked caramelized onions.

Mint and apple b’stilla

“With the crisp filo, sweet mint custard and apples, it’s pretty much everything you could want in a dessert, especially when paired with the date and ras el hanout ice-cream,” says Shane Delia of his mint and apple b’stilla, his twist on a traditional Moroccan pie.

Olive oil cake with date syrup

“Paired with a salted white chocolate ice-cream, this dish has all the flavors of the desert – dates, olive oil, salt and spice. It might seem like a lot of syrup to pour over the top but trust me, it can take it and it’s worth it!” says Shane Delia. Here the ras el hanout is used in the cake, which is served with a spicy-citrusy syrup and salted white chocolate ice-cream.

More ras el hanout recipes


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