Ras El Hanout

Ras El Hanout

Slow-cooked, buttery lamb literally melts off the bone, thanks
to hours of tenderising in a tagine steaming with aromatic ras
el hanout, Morocco’s trademark mix of numerous spices.

The Arabic term ‘ras el hanout’ translates as ‘head of the shop’, an assurance that it’s the best your attar (spice master) in the souk has to offer. While the ingredients and quantities vary (often carefully guarded secrets), the complex blend can feature up to 50 different spices. There are also rumours that it dates back to biblical times, ‘ras’, being the title for an Ethiopian king. Intriguingly, there
are tales of attars customising it with hashish for special clients!

You’ll need
3 tbs olive oil
2 onions, peeled and thinly
1 tbs finely chopped fresh
1kg (2lb) boneless lamb
shoulder, cut in chunks
2 tsp ras el hanout (see below
for recipe)
2 cinnamon sticks
11/5 cups (300mL) water
800g (1lb 10oz) diced
3 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
175g (6oz) dried apricots
Seeds from 1 pomegranate,
to serve
Handful of chopped fresh
coriander (cilantro) leaves,
to serve

Ras El Hanout
½ tsp roasted cardamom
½ tsp roasted fennel seeds
1 tbs roasted coriander seeds
1 tbs roasted cumin seeds
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cayenne
2 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp salt
½ tsp sugar
½ tsp allspice
2 whole cloves
¼ tsp ground nutmeg

Cooking Method
1 Heat the oil in a large, deep casserole dish (or tagine!). Add the onions and saute until soft. Stir in the ginger, add the lamb in portions and fry until lightly coloured. Return all the meat to the pan.
2 Blend/crush the ras el hanout ingredients in a mortar and pestle of spice grinder, then add 2 tsp to the lamb. Store the remainder in an airtight jar.
3 Stir in cinnamon sticks and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and water and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Add the bay leaves and salt and pepper to taste, then cover and simmer for about 1½ hours, until the meat is tender.
4 Stir in the apricots and heat for 5 minutes.
5 Serve sprinkled with coriander leaves and pomegranate seeds.

Tasting notes
Imagine wandering the labyrinths of Marrakesh with every sense on red alert: the cacophony of buzzy bartering, blaring Arabic music, vibrant kaftan colours, dodging donkeys and snake charmers. The heady aroma of molten lamb penetrates the incense-laden undertow and you veer in the direction of a quiet rooftop for your first taste of authentic tagine. As the terracotta lid is lifted by your host, revel in the steamy, aromatic anticipation. The first nugget of lamb falls apart on your tongue, unctuous with ras el hanout’s layers of sweet, spicy, warmth, depth. Take a sip of mint tea or perhaps fresh pomegranate juice, tear off some khobz (bread) and dive in again. And again.

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