For a few months now I haven’t felt able to replenish my supplies of “boutique” or “exotic” spices and blends (the ones you can’t just get at the supermarket), because Australia Post has been so crippled by the pandemic that deliveries are falling weeks behind, if they’re getting through at all. Today, though, I really had a craving for a chicken tagine, so I figured I would do some research and put together my own version of “ras el-hanout”, a.k.a. “top of the shop”, that quintessentially Moroccan spice blend which just isn’t readily available here.1 Now, it turns out that the ras el-hanout I usually buy has a few rare (for here) spices in it that aren’t available at my local supermarket, but I did my best with what I could get, and in the end, I wound up with:

  • 4 parts…
    • paprika
    • ground ginger
    • ground coriander seed
    • cardamom
  • 2 parts…
    • nutmeg
    • cumin
    • turmeric
    • allspice
  • 1 part…
    • freshly cracked pepper (black and white mixed)
    • chilli powder
    • cloves
    • caraway seed
  • and one whole piece of star anise

And you know what? The resulting tagine was delicious! I don’t know if I’d say my spice mix was “just as good” as the boutique blend, but it was at least nearly as good, and probably a lot cheaper, seeing as most of these spi­ces were things I already had. It’s a relief to know I can do it! The problem I have with mixing my own spices in other contexts (e.g. my own Berbere spice or Sazón seasoning) is that they tend to prominently feature spices that just aren’t that easy to find here, like fenugreek seed, ajowan seed, or annatto seeds. Ras el-hanout isn’t immune from that problem (for example, the resources I found said to use only a little nutmeg and a lot more mace, but I can’t easily get mace…) but at least I could make substitutions that worked. It’s a nice reminder that it’s always worth investigating, and that sometimes you can surprise yourself with what you can achieve 😊

close-up of a dish with chicken, tomatoes, chickpeas and slivered almonds

  1. If you are also Australian and familiar with the “Mor­oc­can seasoning” that is available in our supermarkets, ras el-hanout is not at all the same. Super­market “Mor­oc­can seasoning” is mostly just salt 😔 ↩︎