Ras el Hanout


I’ve commented before on how keen I am on making my own spice mixes. Our most recent batch of garam masala was bought from a spice store, in a huge quantity, and turned out to be far too rich in cinnamon for my liking. Is cinnamon even supposed to be in garam masala?

Ras el hanout is a Moroccan spice blend that you may struggle to purchase, leaving you with no option but to make it yourself. It’s ultimately a personal blend and in Morocco no two shops are likely to sell the same product under its banner.

I have based this recipe on that found in Made in Morocco but did a little tweaking because I was in a bit of a rush.

In my spice grinder, I put the following:

1 tsp fennel seeds
1 (generous) tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
a good shake of turmeric
1 tsp cinnamon
2 scant tsp ground ginger
a good shake of smoky paprika
scant ½ tsp ground chillis
a good grating of nutmeg
2 cloves
½ tsp allspice
seeds from 2 cardamom pods
salt and pepper

Give it all a good whizzy up, so that it’s a uniform mix, and store in a jar. This will make about ¼ cup: with spice mixes it’s always best to make them in small quantities unless it’s something you use tons of. Also, if you’re working on finding your perfect blend, make sure you write down what you did so you can make adjustments next time.

I was pretty happy with this – I could have faffed around toasting spices (and the original recipe does mandate that) and I probably will do that in future, if I’m less pushed for time, but other than that, there aren’t any adjustments I’d look to make.

Once you have this, you’ll find plenty of uses for it … but the most simple perhaps is to mix a couple of generous teaspoons through some plain flour and use that to coat garfish fillets before quickly pan frying them. Not only does it add a subtle flavour but the turmeric adds a gorgeous golden glow to the fish.

Rogan Josh

Rogan josh spice mix

Ages ago I won a copy of Just Add Spice, by Lyndey Milan and Ian Hemphill. I have actually made a couple of things from it, including an excellent fish dish, but not blogged them. So today we redress that with the book’s take on rogan josh.

Rogan josh is a Kashmiri dish which is typically made with lamb but I’m sure this dish would work just fine with any other meat of your choice.

Just Add Spice has a lot of emphasis on making your own spice mixes, which I wish I found in more recipes. I always like to compare recipes for dishes such as this and while googling came across too many that gave lists of ingredients that included “jar of Rogan Josh curry paste”. Sigh.

If you can spare yourself the 5 minutes (or so) to make a spice mix it’s an invaluable thing to have in your culinary drawer. There are plenty of times when making a curry needs to be a quick exercise and if you have a decent homemade curry powder you save yourself a ton of time (and money).

Having said that, in this case the recipe gives you just the measurements you need for the finished dish but you can always double or triple up. The other thing about this spice mix recipe is that you don’t need to toast the spices at all. It’s just a case of measuring them out straight into the grinder and off you go.

Don’t be too pernickety about measuring things out here – you’re working with rough ratios and we’re not baking. So, into your grinder measure out: 2½ tsp coriander seeds, 2 tsp cumin sees, 1 tsp paprika, ½ tsp each of chilli powder, ground ginger and turmeric and ¼ tsp each of fennel seeds, nutmeg, cardamom seeds (from green cardamom) and cloves.

Measuring out nutmeg is a bit of a pain so I just grated what looked like roughly the right. Cardamom seeds – well, yes, if you only have pods there is a bit of bother here. You’ll need to get the seeds out of about 5 pods. The pods are easy enough to break into: a firm whack with the back of a solid knife will do the trick.

Grind everything up into a powder. This makes approximately 2 tbsp.

Although this supposedly makes enough for this recipe I found I had some leftover which I used up next time I needed to jazz up some meat.  Of course, it would work perfectly well for vegetarian dishes too!

For the rogan josh itself, take approximately 1kg of diced lamb (we used leg) and marinate it in a mix of plain yoghurt and the spice blend. The recipe calls for 500g of yoghurt but, based on my experience, this will be way too much. Tread carefully with your yoghurt!

You only need to marinate it for about 15 minutes so don’t feel you have to start this recipe a day in advance.

On the stove, heat ⅓ cup of mustard oil in a heavy casserole which will be OK in the oven. When it’s hot, add some chopped onions (I used 3 – I suggest you use some judgement depending on how much you like onion!) and cook until golden. Add 5 or 6 cloves of crushed/chop garlic and then the lamb and yoghurt mix.

Give it a stir, then add ½ tin of chopped tomatoes and bring to a simmer. The place in a preheated oven and leave it to do its thing.

The book says to have the oven at 100°C (80°C fan) and to cook for 2 hours. This temperature is just waaaaaaaaay too low. After two hours the meat was barely cooked through, the sauce hadn’t even begun to thicken up and dinner was starting to look a long way off.

When cooking meat slowly like this you don’t want to hit a boil – you want things to stay just under a simmer. And I guess that is why the recipe suggests putting the curry in the oven on such a low heat. Next time I’d just cook this on the stove because it’s much easier to keep an eye on how quickly things are moving, and it’s also much easier to take the lid off to allow for sauce thickening up. If you do want to use the oven I think I’d be starting things off at around 150°C and seeing how they progress.

When the lamb is cooked and tender serve with rice, garnished with coriander.

On first eating this dish I thought it was really dull – the yoghurt really seemed to have washed out the flavours of the spices. However, the next day it was much tastier, so I suspect the problem lay in the fact that the oven cooking had been at such a low heat the flavours (and sauce) had had no opportunity to concentrate. I may have also been too generous with the yoghurt marinade.

I later used the leftover spice mix in something else and it was perfectly tasty so I can’t lay the blame there.

The spice mix I will definitely make again but as a whole, this curry recipe doesn’t really cut the mustard.