Saturday, 5 March 2011

Ras El Hanout from Scratch! This is a version from Fez.

During my last visit to Fez (Fes), I enjoyed chatting with Mr. Benchekroun whose family has been trading in the spices business for generations. He’s located in EL Ettarine (section of "spices" in Old Medina).

My mother joined me in this trip and she took me to the old places and good addresses to buy some goodies and this is how we ended up there, at Benchekroun’s little chop. We monopolised the gentleman for 30 minutes, the time he explains to me the history and the name of every spice he had in the shop. Not that I’m blank in this matter but they were other spices and herbs I have never seen..

Also, he was nice to give me time to wrap each item in a "post-it", name it and pack it. Then, we asked him to pack each portion separately because I was planning to offer them to some of my friends in Qatar.

I prefer to buy my spices in natural version in the sense that I grind them just before use. Or, in the case of Ras el Hanout, I grind my mixture for 3 or 4 months to come. So, this way, the spices will keep their intensity. It goes without saying that it will be kept in an airtight jar.

Ras el Hanout means "head of the shop," which refers to the best of it. This blend of fragrant and warm spices is rarely used in the Fassi cooking (from Fez), but more often in other regions of Morocco. As such, the mixtures and the quantity (as spices that their number) are different from one region to another. I prefer the Fassi version because I think it is balanced but also because I'm used to it; it has a floral flavour, peppery, forest at the same time.

It is true that Ras El Hanout is Moroccan, yet it seems that the majority of its components are of Asian origin, some are aphrodisiacs (so they say), almost impossible to find among the "common" spices we usually deal with everyday. These rare elements require a small dosage.

As far as the concept of blending spices is concerned, Ras El Hanout can be compared with the Garam Masala in the sense that it is a mixture of warm and fragrant spices that is versatile (based on the origin, the region and the number of spices used). However, I do not agree when I hear that both mixtures are similar in taste! Fassi version at least is absolutely different!

From right to left: Non grinded version of Ras el Hanout, Ras El Hanout with Stickers (to remember the spices), a grinded version (ready for cooking)

I happen to make my own blend of Garam masala in several versions (limited or extended depending where I live). But when I make my Ras el Hanout, composition and taste dramatically different. Now, experts can argue about it and add a “grain de sel” to the discussion.

Personally, I also think that this magic blend of spices goes well with sweet dishes / Sales. The Mrouzia is an idea of recipe to make a good use of Ras El hanout (bones slightly covered with meat with raisins made only during the Eid Lkbir (Feast of Sacrifice). We rub the bones or the meat or chicken with the spices and a bit of oil to facilitate this process, we let it macerate overnight and we cook it the next day with raisins, prunes, dates, figs..

Now back to our Ras El Hanout mixture and the details with pictures..You will basically need 27 elements to come up with this version.

Part 1 of Ras El Hanout

Part 2 of Ras El Hanout
Part 3 of Ras El Hanout

Some of the ingredients are not in the picture but will be added to the list of ingredients. 

Unfortunately, I couldnt translate some of the ingredients to english, so I am giving them in french and Moroccan. It's a shame that I don't remember what number 12 and 19 refer to give you a full visual of the spices...

1 / Galangal "Khdenjel" It is said that it’s good during periods (womens’ menstruation). Khdenjel is also used in the Moroccan snails soup.
2/ Sedge, Cypéracée,  "Tara”
3/Boules de graines cultivées, agglomérées. « Hebbet benchabek »
4 / Nutmeg "Gouza el boultia"
5 / Nutmeg "Gouzet ettib"
6/ Turmeric "kharkoum.
7/ Cinnamon sticks “Qarfa”.
8/ Long pepper "Dar Felfel".
9/ Rosebuds "Rious el ward" is the rose of Damascus cultivated in the valleys of Dades, Todra..
10 / Mace "bsibissa" the orangey crust that covers the nutmeg.
11/ Dry Ginger "Skinjbir".
11-1/ Iris “Oud Laamber” (11-1 is because I forgot it when I was putting numbers in the photos)
13/ Fruit du frêne "Lissan Ettir", aphrodisiac (it seems).
14 / Green Cardamom "Qâquoulla" or « Hil »
15/ Clove "Oud nouar, Qrenfe »l.
16/ White pepper “lbzar Labiad”
17/ Berries of belladonna "Zbibet el laïdour, dried berries.
18 / Maniguette "Gouza sahraouia"
20 / Allspice "Nouiouira.
21/ Cubeb, Cubèbe "qebaba", fragrant black pepper
22/ hebbar
23/ Pepper monks, poivre des moines, “ Kherouaâ”
- Black peppercorns "lbzar.
- Ethopian Cardamom  «  hil habachi »

These 2 are missing in the photos but quiet available everywhere:
- Lavender flower "Khzama"
- Star anise or Chinese star anise "Dar el sini or Badiane"

Now the oddest element would be the Spanish fly "Debbante elhand" which is highly toxic. It is said to be an aphrodisiac but Mr. Benchekroun said they no longer use it nowdays. Thank God. I have no idea why they have used it in the first place.

As you can notice, there is no mention of cumin or Fenugreec which you may find in another region of Morocco as part of the Ras el Hanout blend. I personnally prefer mine without. 

Since I have posted this, I feel like cooking a yummy Mrouzia . I will keep you posted!


  1. very useful, i still fight to explain to people here that there is as many ras el hanout as cities in morocco ! thanks nada. Lamia BAKHTI


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