There’s no one true recipe for Ras el Hanout. Moroccan merchants once at the center of the world's spice trade simply made the blend from the best spices they had. Ras el Hanout is a pungent, unique blend frequently used in North African cuisine. It’s strong and complex, with a name that literally translates to “head of the shop” in Arabic. So it sets the expectations high for great flavours! We'll explore Ras el Hanout recipes and tips for using this exotic spice blend!
A potent addition to your pantry, Ras el Hanout is surprisingly versatile too. So what does this spice blend actually contain? What does it taste like? And how can you cook with it even if your kitchen isn’t in Morocco? We’ve got some ideas…
First, A Little Background
Ras el Hanout is traditionally made up of over 30 ingredients, and combinations of this blend can vary from maker to restaurant to family. Some spice merchants were even known to create custom blends for special clients. Super traditional recipes contain things like dried rosebuds and lavender, making it especially fragrant and aromatic.
The Zest & Zing Ras el Hanout Blend contains (get ready for a long list!) all of these ingredients: Cloves, Allspice, Black Pepper, Mace, Cardamom, Cinnamon, Ginger, Turmeric, Rosebuds, Cumin, White Pepper, Coriander, Nutmeg, Saffron, Bay Leaves, and Paprika. And quite simply, it’s stunning.
Ras el Hanout is woody, pungent, and bitter, but it’s also sweet because of the nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves. And it’s not spicy like you might think – just warm. Because of its strong flavours, it makes a great marinade or spice rub for meats, and it’s traditionally used in tajines and stews. This aromatic blend needs to be paired with ingredients that can stand up to its intense taste. So what should you make with it?
Chicken and Ras el Hanout
Chicken provides a great canvas to let this spice blend shine. You can go from the super simple grilled chicken dishes to baked chicken to more complex (but still not too difficult to make) Moroccan tajines. Chicken actually shows how versatile Ras el Hanout can be.
To get a feel for the flavours of Ras el Hanout, start with this basic Grilled Ras el Hanout Chicken. It’s healthy, it’s easy, and you can use the chicken for all sorts of things! If you’d like even more spice to accompany it, try adding some harissa. Want something a tiny bit more complex? Try these Ras el Hanout Chicken Kebabs which include feature this spice blend along with some garlic and lemon juice. (They’re still really simple!) Then step it up with these Moroccan Chicken Flatbreads by marinating the chicken overnight, skewering it, and grilling it up to serve with a homemade tomato sauce and garlic yogurt on flatbread.
This food in this recipe sounds way more complicated and fancy than it is, but Ras el Hanout Chicken Thighs with Baked Feta and Shaved Salad is actually just chicken baked in the oven and accompanied by great spices and quality ingredients to ensure you end up with fully developed flavours. (And dark meat is always more tender and moist!) Not a fan of these particular accoutrements? Try this Ras el Hanout Baked Chicken recipe with red onions, sweet potatoes, and carrots – you could actually add any vegetables you like!
Combine modern Western bar snacks with traditional North African flavors by making these Moroccan Chicken Wings with Sesame-Bok Choy Slaw. Or try these spiced and breadcrumbed chicken strips with this recipe for Moroccan Chicken Goujons with an Herby Yogurt Dip. They’re like a baby step toward exotic flavours that even kids will love.
So you want to make a tajine, but don’t have one of those customary clay dishes? Try it in the slow cooker to get juicy, tender meat (every time!) with all the right flavours. This Slow Cooker Moroccan Chicken recipe is super forgiving, and it allows you to experiment with the spices you put in, although Ras el Hanout is obviously a good replacement for the long list of spices they’ve included. It goes great with the traditional ingredients like lemons, raisins, and olives.
You can try your hand a few other tajine recipes by using a heavy-bottomed pan or Dutch oven. This Chicken and Chickpea Tagine with Apricots and Harissa Sauce by Bobby Flay uses chicken thighs. And this slightly simpler Chicken Tagine recipe by BBC uses chicken breasts if you prefer white meat.
Lamb and Ras el Hanout
Perhaps the most traditional of combinations, lamb is consistently used in Morocco alongside Ras el Hanout in tajines and stews. And it’s simple to do at home, especially in the slow cooker! This Crockpot Lamb Tajine is even easier when you’ve got the spice blend already made, and it yields melt-in-your-mouth meat with Moroccan flavours (and a real kick if you add the chilies and red pepper flakes). For a sweeter flavour profile, try this Slow Cooker Lamb Ras el Hanout which includes honey and thyme. Serve either of these over couscous or rice – mint leaves, pomegranate seeds, and roasted pine nuts are all fab for sprucing up those side dishes.
Want to go more traditional? Try this recipe for Lamb, Squash, and Apricot Tagine. Or if you want to mix it up a little, try this fun Lamb Tagine with dried cherries, almonds, and sweet potatoes. Serve them up with plain yogurt and cous cous!
If you’re really more of a master of the grill and have some leg of lamb ready, use Ras el Hanout as a rub, add a little garlic, and char some cherry tomatoes with this Ras el Hanout-Grilled Lamb recipe.
Braising might sound difficult, but it’s actually another way to make sure you keep all the moisture in your meats while packing in flavours over time. Try Dhruv Baker’s Braised Shoulder of Lamb with Ras el Hanout – he uses a combination of honey, garlic, and thyme and cooks the meat for several hours, resulting in fall-off-the-bone lamb. This MasterChef recommends a fancy couscous with raisins, almonds, and coriander, but even plain rice or couscous would still be delicious!
Would you rather make something a little more soupy? Try this Moroccan Lamb Stew with Chickpeas and Figs. Feel free to change up the ingredients as you experiment!
What About Beef?
If you’re not a fan of lamb or don’t have any on hand, feel free to use beef with Ras el Hanout. This recipe for “Moroccan Beef Stew” is made in the slow cooker with apricots and onions. You can also substitute beef into for many of the recipes above, or use Ras el Hanout as a spice rub when grilling or braising it!
Jamie Oliver even makes a sweet, spicy, and fragrant Beef Tagine using Ras el Hanout that contains butternut squash, chickpeas, and tomatoes.
And you could use minced beef with Ras el Hanout to create koftas! Try this recipe with either lamb or beef (or a mix) to create meatballs with a North African kick. Or your could throw those koftas in a tajine dish to give them an amazing sauce to float around in.
Vegetables, Snacks & Sides
Obviously you don’t need meat to make a tajine or get the great flavours of Ras el Hanout into your Moroccan-inspired meal. There are tons of options for veg-only tajines. Just check out this recipe for Garden Vegetable Tagine that contains aubergine, cauliflower, courgettes, sweet potato, and carrots, or this Seven-Vegetable Tagine that includes pumpkin and cabbage. And this Vegetable Tagine with Almond & Chickpea Couscous includes prunes and red peppers. While these recipes do not all specifically mention Ras el Hanout, the addition of the spice blend will make your tajine even more fragrant, warm, and delicious.
For a more casual, less labour-intensive way to experience Ras el Hanout’s flavours, try it on these simple Roasted Chickpeas. They make a super healthy snack! And these easy Spiced Chickpea Fritters using panko and parsley make a great side dish, plus the recipe can be adapted to be gluten-free or vegan.
As a starch, potatoes make a great vessel for absorbing all the great flavours of this spice blend, so try these Ras el Hanout Roasted Potatoes with garlic and lemon. We have a feeling this recipe would also work great with any roasted root vegetable!
These Healthy Moroccan Stuffed Sweet Potatoes with Ras el Hanout and “Smoked” Yogurt would make an impressive side (or even meal). They contain the unique combo of Ras el Hanout and maple syrup… plus the smoked yoghurt is made easy with the addition of smoked paprika.
© Flickr, Marco Verch Apricot Couscous with Ras-el-Hanout mushrooms, almonds and cucumber yogurt dip
Tricks and Tips
What else can you do with Ras el Hanout that doesn’t require much effort?
You can mix the spice blend with sour cream or yogurt to create a flavourful dip. Or blend it with softened butter to make a unique topping for fish, meat, or chicken. (Here’s a little inspiration for making compound butters!)
You can even sprinkle a little Ras el Hanout with salt over your popcorn to give an exotic flare to a classic movie snack. Or if you’re feeling really crazy, add some dark chocolate and almonds to that Ras el Hanout Spiced Popcorn.