Monday, March 4, 2013

Ras el Hanout and Roses


February was all about roses – cooking with them! Rose water and dried petals were the ingredients of choice as I virtually cooked along with others in our Tasting Jerusalem group. It is truly a pleasure to learn, share and discover together. Hopefully some of us will be able to cook in person together, or maybe even meet in Jerusalem (I’ll be there in August!) ... one can dream.


In the past, I’ve been rather timid to cook with rose water, preferring to use it as a perfume or skin tonic. Perhaps I’ve used too much, leading to a soapy flavor. But as I’ve said before, I appreciate being challenged and discovering something new.


Several months ago I made the harissa recipe in Jerusalem: A Cookbook and was immediately hooked. I look for any opportunity to open the jar so had already marked the Panfried Sea Bass with Harissa and Rose. The halibut at our fish counter looked beautiful, so I used it in place of the sea bass. A myriad of flavors mingled delightfully in the finished dish, with spicy harissa, sweet honey and currants, onions, the acidity of vinegar and a hint of rose water. A scattering of rose petals on top is pretty, too!


Cardamom Rice Pudding with Pistachios and Rose Water was my next foray into rose water. For the pudding, I used half and half since I already had some on hand (in place of whole milk and cream), and skipped the condensed milk since I did not have any on hand. I also used short grain brown rice, and upon reflection should have known to cook it a bit longer since it was rather too al dente. The rose water added a delicate note, and the honey and rose syrup to drizzle is quite nice. Needless to say, it was all eaten! I pulled out my grandmother’s china cups to serve it in, since I think a pudding with rose petals warrants fancy tea cups.


My friends Debbie and Margot each made the Watercress and Chickpea Soup with Rose Water and Ras el Hanout and quite enjoyed it, so based on their recommendation I knew I would, too. This is a marvelous bowl of green! Fresh spinach and watercress are briefly cooked and whirled together with chickpeas, onions, ginger and a few drops of rose water and topped with chickpeas and carrots roasted with a spice blend called ras el hanout. I’ve already made the soup two times. The second time I left out the ginger as my family felt it overwhelmed the other flavors, and as much as I like ginger I found I preferred it this way myself. If you make this, do yourself a favor and just double or triple the carrots and chickpeas from the start since you’ll be nibbling away on them. The rose water subtly perfumed the soup in a pleasing way.


At Margot’s suggestion, I made my own ras el hanout spice mix. Ras el hanout is Moroccan in origin and is Arabic for “head of the shop.” There are many variations of this mix, sometimes using up to twenty spices, and each spice shop has its own version. I decided to be like the spice vendors and create my own blend. Plus, I love any opportunity to use my mortar and pestle! I toasted some cumin seeds and coriander seeds until they were fragrant, then pounded them together with cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, pepper and paprika. Earthy and warm, this is a mix I’ll be reaching for many times.


This next dish does not involve roses in any way, but it was my husband and sons’ favorite snack that I made from Jerusalem in February (other than copious amounts of hummus) so I recommend it.  Chopped liver! This was my first time making anything with chicken livers, but one of the goals of Tasting Jerusalem is to try new ingredients and I am doing just that. Bob, Sam and Isaac loved it. I served it during the Super Bowl with homemade sourdough rye bread and it disappeared. It is rich, filled with onions and eggs, and I’ll be making it again for my men.

Ras el Hanout Spice Blend
Makes 1/2 cup

2 tablespoons cumin seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons turmeric
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup paprika

In a small pan, toast the cumin seeds over high heat until they become fragrant, about a minute or two (take care not to burn them). Grind with a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Pour the ground seeds into a small bowl. Next toast the coriander seeds in the same pan over high heat until they, too, become fragrant. Grind the seeds and add to the cumin seeds.

Add the rest of the spices and stir gently to combine. Store the spice blend in a covered jar for several months.  Use it to jazz up roasted veggies, stews, flavor meat or season legumes.

26 comments:

  1. Wow! You're getting adventurous! I love rosewater in desserts. But chicken liver is something else entirely...

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    1. It's definitely an adventure, Brooke! And yes, chicken liver is a whole new world to explore!

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  2. I am a spice novice, dubbed by my daughter as "the anti spice" for me spicing is challenging. That said I love it, spicing that is and have always wanted a recipe for ras el hanout. I have all the spices need for this. Thanks for the recipe. I look forward to every post on your journey through "Jerusalem, the cookbook". I do love Middle Eastern food, probably more than any other including Italian. The halibut dish sounds wonderful and I love using rosewater as a flavoring, using gingerly of course because I have found there is a fine line between gently scented and soapy. I make my own rosewater from the roses in my garden. I have never used in a savory application and will have to give it a try. I have made the rice pudding with rosewater, it's a popular Iranian dish too. Great post Hannah I look forward to each and every one,

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    1. Thank you for your kind comment, Suzanne! Now that I'm re-discovering rose water I'd love to make it (although yours would be the loveliest since you're using roses you grew). I had only tasted it in a sweet form (like baklava) and I think I may prefer it in savory dishes. Cooking from Jerusalem is so much fun and I'm delighted you're coming along on the journey!

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  3. Wow - what a line-up! The halibut looks fantastic as does the soup. I'm still trying to get my head around using rosewater in savory dishes, but I think you've given me a nudge in the right direction!

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    1. As I mentioned above, I have only had rose water in sweet desserts, and now that I've tried it in a savory manner I think I prefer it that way. Let me know what you think when you give it a try it!

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  4. What can I say Hannah - your talent and enthusiasm in the kitchen both with the food and photos is just impressive and so motivating to me. Jerusalem in August - oh my - I am so tempted. If not, how about Seattle in September for IFBC - I'm thinking about it. Anyhow - thanks for a great #TastingJrslm post and stunning recap of our virtual cooking adventures in February!

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    1. I appreciate your supportive words, Beth! It is truly a pleasure to join in. Yes to IFBC! I still need to register, but I'm planning to attend and would be so happy if you are there!!

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  5. They all sound delicious, especially that Watercress & Chickpea soup...I see another Ottolenghi phase comning on :)

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    1. Oh yes, do jump back into Ottolenghi, Mairi! It's a marvelous phase to be cooking in, as you know. This month is all about barberries and I'm making my shopping list now.

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  6. Wow, Hannah. I am also a bit apprehensive about cooking with rose water, but you have definitely jumped right in! That watercress and chickpea soup is on my to-try list for sure. We made a chicken liver terrine from the Momofuku cookbook a couple of years ago. It's quite the undertaking; I don't know if we'll do it again, but Kevin has asked repeatedly lately if we can make something with chicken livers. That chopped liver recipe sounds wonderful, especially on sourdough rye!

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    1. I'm glad I gave rose water another try, Brianne. Basically, as I'm sure you know, a very little goes a long way! I like it in a savory manner, adding a bit of Middle Eastern flair. And the chopped liver is most definitely less of a project than a Momofuku creation! I'm sure your terrine was quite impressive and delicious. :)

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  7. I am so excited for your upcoming adventure! Can't wait to hear more about it.

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    1. Thanks, Erina! It's fun to be on a cooking journey, and so exciting to know I'll actually be cooking in Jerusalem later this year. All good!

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  8. Love rose water and the essence in baking and cooking. But liver is all together a challenge for me, to eat :)

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    1. I am definitely warming to rose water, Kiran, and appreciating it more now. I have some orange blossom water I'd like to try sometime, too. And yes, liver is a whole different experience. Quite a month for new tastes!

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  9. Fantastic post! I love ras el hanout and all things arabic and middle eastern. All of these recipes look wonderful and beautifully photographed.

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    1. Thank you, Lynda, I appreciate your kind words! I agree, Middle Eastern food is just marvelous and has long been a favorite in our family. To be diving in and trying so many new dishes is such a treat for all of us. Now on to cooking with barberries!

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  10. Awesome! That is one of my favorite spice mixes and I haven't made it at home yet. Bookmarking!

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    1. I hope you like it, Alyssa! I'm reaching for this little jar often now. Amazing how a few good spices can transform a dish in such a healthy, tasty way!

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  11. beautiful pictures, and inspiring to make the ras el hanout! I brought some back from Israel already blended, I should give it a try as well

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    1. Thank you, Orly! There's nothing like spices from Israel...I can't wait for our visit this summer to stock up. Wishing you a wonderful weekend!

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  12. Rose water is such lovely stuff. I have some on hand that I need to use, and you've given me some ideas. ;-) And ras el hanout is terrific! Years (decades) ago I lived in Morocco, and sampled dozens of different combinations - every spice merchant had his own mix! I've made it here in the US (in Morocco I always bought it), but it's been quite awhile. Your combo of spices looks particularly nice. Really good post - thank you.

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    1. Thank you so much, John! I'm envious of your time in Morocco. Wow, what an eating adventure that must have been! I can imagine you sampled a wide variety of ras el hanout mixes...I've seen them range from quite red (like this one) to very brown in color. I'm happy to add rose water to my cooking repertoire now, too, especially in savory dishes. Happy to share ideas! Have a marvelous weekend.

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  13. This spice blend sounds so magical and your dishes look beautiful too! I've heard about rose water but I haven't tried using it myself yet. This post really shows how talented cook you are, Hannah! I love that sea bass! We like sea bass but it's a new way to enjoy this delicious fish. Not to mention, the rose petals add the beauty to the dish! :)

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    1. Thank you for your kind words, Nami! It's been fun to explore and try new ingredients. The ras el hanout is quite delicious and I'm opening the jar often (tonight I'm roasting chickpeas alone in it as an appetizer). And I have lots of dried rose petals so I think I'll be decorating dishes with them for a long time. Enjoy your weekend!

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