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Ras el hanout must be one of the world's most complex spice blends, containing as many as 20 or more different spices, including paprika, cumin, coriander, chilli, cinnamon and rose petal, to name just a few. Its warm and perfumed character adds instant exoticism to anything you pair it with. Here are a few of our favourite things to do with it...
Stew it - Moroccan-style beef stew
Dust 800g stewing or braising steak with 2 tbsp plain flour. Brown in 2 tbsp oil in a hot casserole, then remove with a slotted spoon to a plate. In the same pan, fry 2 large sliced onions, 2 crushed garlic cloves and 1½ tbsp ras el hanout on a low heat until the onions are soft and translucent. Return the beef to the pan along with a handful of chopped dried apricots or pitted dates, 1 x 320g pack prepared butternut squash, 2 tbsp sundried tomato paste and 750ml beef stock. Season, bring to the boil, then cover with a lid, reduce the heat to low and cook for 2½-3 hours until both beef and squash are very tender. Serve with couscous. Serves 6.
Mix 150g soft goats' cheese with ½ tbsp sifted ras el hanout, 2 tsp honey, and a handful of chopped walnuts. Cut 12 baby figs into quarters from stem to base, but don't quite cut through all the way. Stuff the goats' cheese mixture into the cuts on each fig then wrap each one in a slice of serrano ham, securing it with a cocktail stick. Drizzle with olive oil and grind over some black pepper, then place on a baking tray and put under a hot grill until the ham is crisp. Serves 4 as a starter.
In a food processor, whiz a drained can of chickpeas, 1 tbsp chickpea flour, a crushed garlic clove, the zest and 2 tsp juice from a lemon, 1½ tbsp tahini paste and ¾ tbsp ras el hanout. Add salt to taste. Roll into 8 balls, flatten slightly, then fry in 1cm of hot vegetable oil for 3-4 minutes per side until brown and cooked through. Serve in warmed pitta breads with salad, tahini and sweet chilli sauce. Makes 8.
For a sweet-sour perfumed raita that's great with grilled lamb or chicken, finely slice 2 echalion shallots in 2 tsp olive oil on a low heat until tender, then add ½ tbsp ras el hanout and continue to cook until the shallots are dark golden brown and slightly crisp, then tip onto a plate and allow to cool. Coarsely grate half a cucumber, discarding the core, and squeeze to remove excess water. Stir the cucumber into 200g natural yogurt along with the fragrant shallots and some seasoning. Finish with a swirl of pomegranate molasses. Serves 4 as a side.
Make a speedy Moroccan-style prawn tagine by frying 1 sliced red onion, 2 crushed garlic cloves, 1 chopped green chilli and 1 tbsp ras el hanout in 1½ tbsp olive oil. When the onions are tender, add a tin of cherry tomatoes, cover and simmer for 10 minutes until reduced and thick. Add 1 x 180g pack peeled raw prawns, simmer for 3-4 minutes until cooked through, scatter with a little roughly chopped coriander, then serve with natural yogurt and flatbreads for dipping. Serves 2.