Welcome to the next installment of my Meet the Spice Blend series, where I'm sharing the inspiration for, back stories of, and uses for my ever-expanding collection of small batch, handcrafted spice blends. Next up, let's meet Top Shelf Secret (formerly known as Ras el Hanout)!!
The Inspiration - Ras el Hanout
Ras el hanout, which translates to "head of the shop" or "top shelf" in Arabic, is a complex and aromatic spice blend that is deeply rooted in North African culinary tradition, especially in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. Its history is an embodiment of the rich tapestry of cultures and influences that have passed through the Maghreb region, from native Berber traditions to Arab, Ottoman, and Andalusian flavors. There is no single standardized recipe for ras el hanout, and the blend can incorporate anywhere from ten to over thirty individual spices. Historically, merchants would create their signature blends, claiming theirs as the best in the market. Today, ras el hanout symbolizes the rich flavor and depth of North African cuisine and culture, giving dishes a unique and unmistakable identity.
Flavor Profile - Top Shelf Secret
Top Shelf Secret pays homage to its legendary predecessor, ras el hanout, while bringing a curated simplicity designed for modern palates. Robust ingredients like black pepper and allspice offer a piquant kick reminiscent of the bustling spice markets of Marrakech. The aromatic coriander and earthy cumin lay a fragrant foundation, reminiscent of age-old caravans winding through the Sahara. With zesty ginger and a hint of kosher salt, there's a balance of warmth and depth. The inclusion of cayenne adds a subtle but thrilling heat, which is beautifully tempered by the sweet notes of Ceylon cinnamon. Finally, the cloves punctuate the blend with their rich, spicy-sweet undertones. In short, Top Shelf Secret is a testament to the fusion of ancient traditions with modern taste preferences, perfectly suitable for both traditional dishes and contemporary culinary experiments alike.
Versatility in the Kitchen - Top Shelf Secret
The beauty of spice blends like Top Shelf Secret is their versatility, and I encourage you to experiment. If you need a little guidance, though, here are some suggestions to introduce this fragrant blend into your own home cooking:
1. Marinades & Rubs: Enhance the flavors of meat, poultry, or fish by mixing Top Shelf Secret with some olive oil and lemon juice to make a paste-like marinade. Let your protein marinate for a couple of hours, then grill, bake, or pan-fry.
2. Vegetable Roast: Toss your favorite root vegetables, like carrots, sweet potatoes, or parsnips, in olive oil sprinkled with Top Shelf Secret and roast until caramelized and tender.
3. Rice & Grains: Elevate the flavor of plain rice, quinoa, or couscous by adding a pinch of Top Shelf Secret during the cooking process.
4. Sauces & Stews: Add a dash to slow-cooked dishes like lamb tagine, beef stew, or vegetarian lentil soup for added depth of flavor.
5. Bread & Pastries: Mix a small amount into bread dough, pie crusts, or other pastries for an unexpected flavor profile. This works especially well with savory pastries.
6. Homemade Popcorn: Melt some butter with a generous pinch of Top Shelf Secret and drizzle it over freshly popped popcorn for a gourmet snack experience.
7. Salad Dressings: Whisk together olive oil, balsamic vinegar, a hint of honey, and a sprinkle of Top Shelf Secret for an aromatic dressing that pairs beautifully with hearty salads.
8. Pasta and Sauces: Toss freshly cooked pasta with olive oil, parmesan, and a sprinkle of Top Shelf Secret. Or, incorporate it into tomato-based or cream-based pasta sauces for an extra layer of flavor.
9. Beverages: For the adventurous palate, infuse your hot cocoa or chai latte with a tiny pinch of Top Shelf Secret for a spicy-sweet twist.
As with all spices, a little often goes a long way. It's always a good idea to start with a smaller amount, taste, and then adjust according to your preference. As you experiment, you'll find your favorite ways to incorporate Top Shelf Secret into your dishes.
A Bite of Good Recipes that use Top Shelf Secret
Looking for some more concrete guidance on how to use Top Shelf Secret? Check out these A Bite of Good recipes!
Roasted Beet and Carrot Salad with Ras el Hanout Dressing - Wondering what to do with those winter beets? This make-ahead salad is the answer!
Ras el Hanout Pumpkin Turkey Chili - Just when you thought you had enough chili recipes, this is a fantastic way to use up some of that leftover turkey from your holiday meals.
Ras el Hanout Roasted Chicken and Root Vegetables - Simple yet elegant, this cozy Autumn meal is just as perfect for a weeknight as it is for date night in.
Grilled Baba Ganoush - This smoky, roasted garlicky version of everyone's favorite eggplant spread is what you'll want to be dipping ALL the things in.
Spiced Beef Kebabs - Served with an herby cucumber salad, this super easy, SUPER delicious beef kebab recipe is the answer to that ground beef rut you've been in.
Ready to get your own Top Shelf Secret? Get it here.