an arabian nights stew: lamb tagine with ras el hanout

lamb with ras el hanout
This lamb stew is a true Arabian Nights of flavours . . . it contains the beautiful spice blend, ras el hanout. Ras el hanout could said to be a metaphor for the Arabian Nights - a collection of fabulous stories, poetry and songs filled with tales of kings, queens and concubines; magicians and djinn, pirates, sailors and fisherman, poets and thieves, viziers and merchants, angels and slaves. Of hungry ghosts and mermaids. They are tales of adventure, treasure, mystery and of dreams. They are absorbing and exhilarating, very like the spice blend itself.

So do try tracking down ras el hanout, a Moroccan spice mix that contains a myriad of herbs and spices including chilli, cumin, cassia bark, nutmeg, ginger, anise, nigella, saffron, grains of paradise, cloves, galangal, cinnamon, lavender and rose petals. It really is as magical as it sounds.

Ras el hanout was developed by middle eastern spice merchants to show off the quality of their spices and to flaunt their skills at blending. It means "head of the shop" or "top of the shop", meaning that it contains the best ingredients, blended by the best people, which can really be quite complex indeed with some 20 ingredients (if not more).

Popular in Morocco as well as Tunisia and Algeria, each version is dependent on who has blended it. Buying it from a supermarket or online, it is worth checking the list of ingredients. Definitely go for something with the dried flowers. You want one with floral overtones, but spicy and peppery too, rather than the earthy or muddy flavoured ones, which tend to have a greater concentration of cumin and turmeric in them

I buy my ras el hanout from Seasoned Pioneers; it really is the best. I have used other versions and unfortunately they didn't have the same subtle kick of this more flowery version.  I would beware of the versions that contain a lot of turmeric as it seems to overwhelm the flavours.

Ras el hanout has a definite affinity for lamb but goes well with other meats and is often used to season couscous and rice.

Serves 4-6
Skill level: Easy

2-3 tbsp olive oil
500g lamb, diced
2 x large onions, finely chopped
2 x garlic cloves, finely chopped
30g toasted almonds, sliced
2-3 tsp ras el hanout (or more to taste)
2 tbsp honey
3-4 dried apricots, chopped
450ml vegetable stock
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 x spring onions, finely sliced
chopped parsley to serve (optional)


  1. In a large saucepan, heat some of the olive oil and fry the onion for 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic and stir. Fry for another 2 minutes. Tip the onion-garlic mixture into a bowl and set aside.
  2. Add more olive oil to the pan if necessary. When oil is heated, add the lamb pieces and brown (should take a few minutes).
  3. Return the onion and garlic to the saucepan and stir.
  4. Add the ras el hanout and stir. Continue to cook for about 2 minutes.
  5. Add the vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 1½ hours.
  6. Add the honey and chopped apricots and continue to simmer for 30 minutes. (If you taste it at this stage it will probably be quite spicy-hot, but the honey helps to soften the bite!)
  7. Sprinkle with toasted almonds (or pine nuts) and spring onions, and serve with rice or couscous or bulgur wheat.


Patricia (La Chatte Gitane) said...

You forgot to add the word "colour" to your list of arabian nights. :-))

Can I come for dinner ? I love North-African food.

Marmaduke Scarlet said...

You're absolutely right! I should have mentioned colour - the colour of Aladdin's treasure or Turkish tea glasses - so a beautiful spice mix - a golden brown flecked with scarlet and purple.

BTW - dinner? Any time!

o cozinheiro este algarve said...

TOP!!-This looks and sounds delicious. I must try it.Have searched the length and breadth of the Algarve and Lisbon to find a tagine, but can i find one heck,so I have to use a terracotta casserole. I make my own Ras al hanout and blog posted it last autumn under the title "Posh spice at Top Shop"- It got some media hits as you can imagine!!!I season my cous cous with it and often serve it with oven roasted quails, and a tunisian carrot purée.

Marmaduke Scarlet said...

Your quails sound amazing and I shall definitely be using your carrot puree recipe. Mouthwatering!