|lamb with ras el hanout|
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.
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)
- 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.
- Add more olive oil to the pan if necessary. When oil is heated, add the lamb pieces and brown (should take a few minutes).
- Return the onion and garlic to the saucepan and stir.
- Add the ras el hanout and stir. Continue to cook for about 2 minutes.
- Add the vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 1½ hours.
- 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!)
- Sprinkle with toasted almonds (or pine nuts) and spring onions, and serve with rice or couscous or bulgur wheat.