Moroccan Spices: Ras El Hanout

January 15, 2013

 

Moroccan spices feature quite heavily within Moroccan cooking and it feels like there is a spice seller at every Medina corner.  The spices scent the air with a range of tantalising aromas; such as cinnamon,  However, in reality the spices are not really Moroccan as individual spices but it is the combination and the way that they are used that makes them Moroccan.

 

The spices are essentially divided into three groups.  The first group features the commonly used spices.  These appear within a wide range of dishes and include paprika, corriander, ginger, cumin and turmeric.  The next group is cinnamon, cayenne, nutmeg and allspice and all these usually feature within any Moroccan kitchen.  Then there is the final group which contains saffron, cardamon and star anise.

 

It is the blending in particular that makes the spices unique.  There is a particular blend known as Ras El Hanout which translates as "the best in the shop".  In other words, a "house blend", and it is often this blend that defines the individual spice stalls and determines where people will buy their spices from.  People will walk past several spice sellers in order to reach the seller that blends his spices just to the right personal taste.  There is no universal recipe but the blend usually contains cumin, coriander, cinnamon, ginger and turmeric.

 

The most popular place in the Medina to buy spices is within the small spice market of the Mellah.  The smell on entry is amazing.  The sellers are very knowledgeable about their produce and will willingly spend time talking you through the many uses.  The quality here is good but probably the most important factor is the high turnover of the stock  which means you are almost guaranteed the freshest ingredients in the Medina.

 

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