Monday, May 12, 2014

Ras el Hanout and Roasted Chickpeas

Ras el hanout was a spice blend I'd been hunting for a long time.
Moroccan, and meaning "top of the shop," ras el hanout is the best of what a spice merchant has to offer, everything pulled together in one blend.
Needless to say, there's no one specific blend, but many versions.
I suppose it all has to do with what one person's "best" might be, where the quality lies.
Some may contain more than 30 different spices in one blend (in contrast, what I have here is 14).
Potentially including spices such as ginger, saffron, turmeric, fennel, cardamom, rosebuds, lavender, a variety of peppers, cloves, both nutmeg and mace.... somewhat like a curry powder, it's exotic and intensely flavorful.

As I said, I'd been trying to find this spice blend for quite a while, but was never able to find any in stores when I looked. Online, yes.
After tasting someone else's gorgeous spice blend which was inspired by ras el hanout, I thought I'd mix up some of my own.
Yes, there was a jumping off point (found on, obviously there had to be a jumping off point since ras el hanout is pretty far from my own personal background, but things can be very easily made your own when cooking.
Change a bit of this and that, add some of those... and obviously since there are no "rules" per se as everyone seems to have his or her own special recipe, if you like it, it works.

Everything rolled into one when it comes to spices, it runs warm, sweet, savory and spicy. Certainly flavorful and deep, spiced, but not overly spicy, the scent is pretty amazing. I wish you could at the very least smell it (I think it very easily elicits a well-deserved "wow").
I've been finding myself putting this spice blend on everything.
Eggs, roasted vegetables (great on sweet potatoes), chicken, fish...
Though it hasn't been attempted yet, I think it would be equally nice on freshly stovetop-popped popcorn.

It's also very great mixed with a little olive oil, minced garlic, and preserved lemon peel to make a paste as a rub for roast chicken.

Add to a saucy chicken dish- perhaps a tagine?

I'm finding it does well with things that are particularly bland.
Thus the recipe for roasted chickpeas below (which would be really good on top of a salad)

Some of the spices called for are definitely going to be previously ground, no two ways about it over here. This is due in part to the fact that some are more difficult to find whole, maybe they don't "exist" whole, but others are more difficult to grind (I can't find pre-dried hunks of whole ginger to grind myself and I decided it wasn't going to be time-effective to open 50 cardamom pods to get the seeds I needed). If I DO call for grinding spices, it's only because it's definitely do-able in the situation called for.

Coriander seed, for example, is something I can occasionally find at a specialty grocery store. But, of course, I can't find it when I need it.
I can go to the spice shop, sure, but I don't always physically want to go there.
Sometimes there's something to be said for ease.

BUT, if things are accessible to you, and if you have the capacity, I would encourage toasting and grinding your own spices. The flavors will be much more present, as with pre-ground spices the flavors from the oils can quickly dissipate.
For example, I NEVER choose pre-ground nutmeg.  The flavor and taste of freshly ground does not compare to the dustiness frequently found in the jarred, pre-ground stuff.
Please invest in whole nutmeg if you can.

Here goes...

Ras el Hanout
Makes about 1/2 c (about 45 g)

2 t (5 g) ground ginger
2 t (5 g) ground cardamom
2 t (6 g) ground mace
1 1/2 t (4 g) ground cinnamon
1 1/4 t (4 g) ground cumin 
1 t (3 g) ground allspice
1 t (3 g) ground coriander seed 
1 t (3 g) ground turmeric
1 t  (3 g) ground nutmeg 
3/4 t (3 g) cayenne pepper
1/2 t (2 g) ground white peppercorns
1/2 t (2 g) ground black peppercorns
1/2 t (2 g) ground anise seeds
3 whole cloves, ground 

Mix all spices thoroughly and store in a covered container away from light and heat.
Use as desired.  

Ras el Hanout Roasted Chickpeas
makes about 1 1/2 cups

1 T (15 ml) olive oil
2 t (5 g) Ras el Hanout
1 t (5 g) salt
2 t (10 ml) lemon juice
15 oz can (425 g) chickpeas, drained and rinsed

Preheat the oven to 425 F/ 220 C.
Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and set aside.

Mix the olive oil, Ras el Hanout, salt, and lemon juice together to make a paste. Stir in the chickpeas, toss and fold the mixture so that the chickpeas become well-coated. 
Pour the chickpeas out onto the parchment paper, making sure to spread into a single layer. 

Roast the chickpeas 20 minutes, stir, and cook another 10-15 minutes, stirring every few minutes so that they cook evenly. 
When the chickpeas are golden brown, remove the pan from the oven and let cool completely. Store any extra in a covered container. 

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