Of all the ingredients used in Moroccan cooking, perhaps none is as distinctive as the combinations of spices. Spices are used to create rich, flavorful sauces, to add sweet and savory notes to dishes, to brighten and season and to add gentle spiciness and heat. Read on for a list of essential Moroccan spices and spice blends as well as tips on how to prepare and store them.
The Role of Spice
Spices are used to add rich and complex flavors to a myriad of Moroccan dishes, like tagines, couscous, vegetable stews, chickpeas, dips…even desserts. Often, spices are bought whole, ground fresh, and added to a dish at the beginning of cooking, so that their flavors have time to develop and deepen.
Essential Moroccan Spices
Cumin One of the world’ s most popular spices, cumin adds an enticing warmth and complexity to meat and poultry. It also adds a bold, rich flavor to roasts, tagines and curries. To get the most flavorful taste and aroma from cumin, buy whole seeds and grind them yourself.
Ginger Fresh or ground, ginger has a distinctive flavor that is a combination of lemon-like zest, peppery heat and herbal sweetness.
Coriander A bright spice with a lemon-like flavor and a component of Moroccan spice blends. Buy who seeds and grind fresh.
Turmeric Prized for its rich golden hue and mild yet pungent mustard-ginger flavor, it is used to add depth to spice blends.
White pepper Preferred for its appearance and subtle flavor, white pepper gives dishes a hint of spice and heat.
Paprika An important ingredient in spice blends, with a deep character and sweetness.
Ras el hanout–the most fundamental spice blend in Morocco, actually has many variations; in fact, most home cooks have their own unique recipe. Certain spices are always in it, like cumin, coriander, cinnamon and nutmeg, and their is always an element of heat, usually in the form of whole peppers. Once the spices are toasted, ground and blended, ras el hanout can be used in a myriad of ways: as a dry rub for poultry and meat; as a flavoring for rice; in yogurt dip; in bean and vegetable stews and braises.
How to Prepare Spices for Moroccan Dishes
Whenever possible, buy spices whole and grind however much you need in a spice grinder or coffee bean grinder. This will ensure you are getting the best flavor and aroma from your spices and that they don’t taste bitter. Some whole spices are too hard to put into a grinder (like nutmeg and ginger); these are best grated with a small grater like a Microplane. Toasting your spices in a skillet over a low flame before grinding will also bring out their true depth and complexity.
Store your whole and ground spices for up to 6 months in airtight containers away from heat, moisture and light–once they’re ground, their flavor will start to fade almost immediately, which is another reason to grind only small amounts when you need them. Spice blends tend to have a longer shelf live than individual spices.Store whole and