On a recent trip to Morocco, I was quite astounded to find just how serious they are about their herbs and spices. Pleasantly so, I might add.
I mentioned to our fabulous tour guide, Jaouad from Infinite Morocco Tours, that I wanted to buy some Moroccan spices. Most of all, their famed Ras el Hanout. I had expected to be taken to a store, but we were taken instead to a spice merchant / herbalist at a market. He knew all about cooking with spices of course but also, how they should be used medicinally. You can imagine my joy at that!
I learnt from this experience that being a spice merchant is a family business in Morocco. The spice merchant I visited when buying the Ras el Hanout was fourth generation, and the spice blends available in his store had been made from recipes that were passed down from his elders. That is not something you come across in Australia! Spices are bought at supermarkets and there is no such tradition attached. Although after that experience I wish there was.
What is Ras el Hanout?
Ras el Hanout is a spice blend from North Africa that is generally associated with Morocco. Each family’s recipe for Ras el Hanout is different however, it often contains at least a dozen spices (or up to 60 or more!) in varying proportions. The combination of spices commonly incorporates – cloves, cardamom, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, ginger, paprika, turmeric, nutmeg, mace, cinnamon and; aniseed. The one that I bought (the blend seen in the photo below) had 44 different spices in it and I adore it.
The name Ras el Hanout loosely translates to ‘head of the shop’ or ‘top of the shop’, which is to suggest that this is the finest mix the spice merchant has to offer. It’s much like the English phrase ‘top shelf’. It has a strong spicy aroma and a flavour not unlike curry – although I would say its taste is more complex. Even now just having a little whiff of it transports me straight back to the Souks in Morocco. It’s wonderful.
Whole roasted cauliflower with Ras el Hanout and tahini
- 1 medium cauliflower (about 700g)
- 1 cup tahini
- 1/4 cup lemon juice (about 1.5 lemons)
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 tsp. sea salt (or a touch more if you prefer)
- 3 tsp. Ras el Hanout (you can buy a wonderful mix from Besaha)
- Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius (340 F)
- Remove the leaves from the cauliflower and trim the base so it sits flat
- Wash and dry the cauliflower then place on a baking sheet lined with baking paper
- Mix together the tahini, lemon juice, water, salt and Ras el Hanout to form a smoothe paste. Taste the mix, and adjust with extra salt and/or lemon juice and/or Ras el Hanout to suit your preferred flavour
- Smother all over the cauliflower so it is quite thick (this should use roughly 1/2 to 3/4 of the tahini paste with plenty left for dipping once cooked!)
- Place in the oven for 50-60 minutes or until golden
- Serve as a side or slice and serve with an array of other baked veg