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The Secret of Ras el Hanout: There Is No Secret (Trust Me)

Marrakech Spice Store

Morocco is an exotic place, a land of unique peoples, cultures and dishes. Their spices, and the way they use them, are part of the mystique. Anyone who has learned a bit about Moroccan food knows something of the spice blend called Ras el Hanout. However, what most folks don’t know (at least not here in the States, and certainly not in Texas) is, ras el hanout is just like curry! Only different.

Here’s what I mean: It’s a spice blend, and there isn’t one defining Ras el Hanout combination. Indeed, each restaurant and spice house in Morocco seems to have a different version. Their version. Often signature in essence and results. There is a major difference between ras el hanout and curry, though; there really IS a sense of what the Moroccan spice is all about, in Morocco; curry doesn’t have much meaning in India (although “kari” means sauce in Tamil, and seems to be related to what the British named as curry.)

Ras el Hanout translates essentially as “head of the shop,” and it’s probably more colloquially correct to say “top of the shop.” The best of the best, secret recipes handed down inside the family business like Coca-Cola‘s (only better). Another name in Morocco for ras el hanout is “lazy wife’s spice” because you simply toss some into all the dishes for a meal and you’re done. No roasting, grinding, or anything else! Convenience cooking, Marrakech style. Rather like using Seasoned Salt for everything (only much tastier, in my opinion).

Mixed Spices

What’s in ras el hanout? Somewhere between ten and a hundred items, if you believe a recent review and analysis in Chile Pepper Magazine. (I don’t know even one chef who can name a hundred spices; that number of items seems bizarre.) Elements like cinnamon, allspice, cumin, star anise, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, chiles and ginger are but a few of the standard items. Mustard, lavender, galangal, rose buds; even dirt, but specially selected dirt (of course). Ras el hanout is seldom very hot, though; if you want North African style heat you should try harissa.

There are so many good recipes on the Web for both ras el hanout and harissa that I won’t post my own. (Besides, they’re secrets, stored in a massive underground vault and otherwise only known to two different executives of the Underground at once, each of whom only knows half of each recipe; you get the picture.) You can usually find these spicy blends at specialty food markets. Or “invent” your own! Then we can both get rich. (Remember, it’s my idea. Just send me half the gross receipts, I’ll be satisfied, and I won’t have to publish those pictures I’ve got. That’s right; THOSE pictures. You play nice, I’ll play nice.)

If you really want something tasty and different, give ras el hanout a try. And if you like it hot (maybe even Very Hot), go for some harissa…

NaNoWriMo Scorecard: Today’s Words: 7,850; Total Words: 118,510; Completion: 232.4%; Impossopotamus Completion: 71.8%.

Enjoy the (Lazy Wife’s Spice) Heat!

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