At the base of Moroccan cuisine’s rich flavor is a basic blend of spices called Ras el Hanout. Literally meaning “top of the shop,” each spice merchant offers a different version, which is most often used to marinate meat and fish, and to flavor stews, desserts and sometimes coffee.
Peggy Markel took me to meet Majid in his spice shop just outside of the main souk (marketplace) in Marrakech. A friendly man with a sweet temperament, he ground up a fresh batch of his own ras el hanout as motorbikes whizzed by and Lawrence of Arabia played on a television screen above his spice scales. Cumin, tumeric, cinnamon, cloves and chili are basic ingredients, but Majid added saffron and salt. The result smelled rough and chocolatey, with an orange tumeric tint.