Displaying influences from Africa, Arabia, and the Mediterranean, the Moroccan cuisine of today is a reflection of the country’s colourful past, blended with the culinary traditions of both its Arab and Berber inhabitants. Over time, these influences have been refined into a distinctly Moroccan flavor — thanks largely to centuries of imperial dynasties, where expectations and demands weighed heavily on the chefs of the royal courts, and thus inspired both experimentation and extravagance.
Moroccan cooking is strongly characterized by the subtle blending of spices, and Moroccans expertly use them to enhance, rather than mask, the flavor and fragrance of their dishes. Spices such as cayenne, saffron, chilies, cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, cumin, paprika, and black pepper are all commonplace in Morocco, as is a special blend of spices called ras el hanout, translated as “head of the shop,” which is usually a mixture of between 10 and 30 different spices. Traditionally the proprietor of each spice shop sold his own unique — and secret — ras el hanout recipe. Fresh herbs are also present in Moroccan dishes, particularly garlic, coriander, parsley, and mint, as are fragrant additions such as orange or rose water, olives, and olive oil. Harissa, a fiery paste of garlic, chilies, olive oil, and salt, is often used as a condiment. Above all else, perhaps the defining characteristic of Moroccan cuisine is the blending of savory with sweet, most commonly witnessed by the addition of fruit to meat tagines.
Here is a quick version of Ras El Hanout that you can whip up to add a warm, exotic taste to your dishes:
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground white pepper
½ teaspoon ground coriander seed
½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
Mix salt, cumin, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, black pepper, white pepper, coriander, cayenne pepper, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves in a small bowl until evenly blended. Store in an airtight container up to 1 month.
This can be used as a rub on meat, poultry or fish, or as a seasoning for rice or couscous. You’re really only limited by your imagination. So let your imagination soar, and get lost in the Moroccan spice markets today!