Let's Get Spicy: Ras el Hanout

Welcome back to the Let's Get Spicy series! Through this series, I will introduce you to each of my small batch, hand-crafted spice blends, giving you a little bit of the history behind each blend, a story or two of how I first discovered them or what inspired them, some non-recipe-recipes for when you don't have the time or interest to get too involved in cooking, and some full-blown recipes for when you really want to dig in. Next up, Ras el Hanout!

Originating in Morocco along the ancient spice route, the phrase Ras el Hanout loosely translates to "top of the shelf" and was traditionally a blend of the best of whatever spices a given spice dealer had to offer at the time. Though the list of ingredients in Ras el Hanout can include literally dozens of spices, most blends (including mine) settle on six to eight (plus salt), including allspice, black pepper, coriander, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and cayenne.

As with many of the blends in my collection, I was first exposed to the flavors of Ras el Hanout in culinary school in our International Cuisines course. Although I couldn't tell you now, nearly ten years later, what it was that we made with our Ras el Hanout, I can absolutely remember the moment I first smelled the spice blend. It was like an explosion of scent, and I swear I get the same sensation every time I open a jar at home. This is part of the reason I start with whole spices when I make my spice blends. It maximizes the intensity of the aromas when whole spices like those found in Ras el Hanou