Having special spice mixtures ready at hand on the spice rack makes preparing exotic dishes quick and easy. Keep your blends in an airtight spice jar and make fresh every year. I couldn’t find ready-blended Ras-el-Hanout even in my upscale grocery, so I mixed up my own. I looked at blends by a few chefs, a few more online and created my own.
Ras-el-Hanout is a blend of common spices that gives extraordinary flavor excitement to something as simple as a one skillet chicken dinner. If your grocery (or a friend’s) has a bulk spice department, you’re in luck picking up small amounts of whatever spices you don’t have on hand. For larger amounts of spices, I like Atlantic Spice.
While you acquire the spices, you’ll probably want to make some fresh preserved lemons, which will often be paired with the Ras-el-Hanout. Go here for an easy method of preparing your own homemade. When you need the extra lemon juice for the preserved lemons, be sure to pull the peel off the lemons first and candy these for your stash of frozen Pantry Essentials. (Read how to do that here.) No work involved. I tuck the finished lemon peel into a freezer bag, add a little of the syrup left, and put it into the freezer for all sorts of future treats, such as lemon pound cake, Christmas Stollen, and panetonne.
I’ll start with a small quantity of spice — after you’ve made the chicken skillet, you’ll probably want to triple the amounts and mix up a bigger jar. There are a lot of ingredients, just assemble them along with your mortar and pestle or spice grinder so that blending takes just a few mouth-watering, aromatic minutes.
• 1 tsp whole cumin
• ½ tsp whole coriander
• 1 tsp whole black pepper corns
• 1 tsp whole white pepper corns
• ½ tsp whole allspice
• 1 tsp whole cloves
• ½ or a small bay leaf
• whole nutmeg
• optional: a few dried red or pink roses
• 1 tsp ground ginger
• 1 tsp ground turmeric
• ¾ tsp ground cinnamon
• ½ tsp ground cayenne
• 1 tsp paprika
1. Grate enough of the whole nutmeg to make ½ tsp of fresh nutmeg.
2. Put the whole spices up to the cloves into your mortar or spice grinder. If you use a grinder, you can “flush” it with a teaspoon of sea salt, then go ahead and add this to your blend. Grind the spices, than add all the pre-ground spices and crumble in the bay leaf and rose petals. Those are pretty left in discreet pieces.
3. Funnel the blend into an airtight spice jar and keep in a dark place.
This is a very simplified version of a chicken tagine, prepared without a tagine and on the table in less than a half-hour. You’ll figure the proportions with your family in mind but use plenty of healthy vegetables.
Serve with saffron couscous
• Boneless chicken pieces
• Ras-el-hanout spice blend
• Onion, color bell pepper, plenty of garlic and other veggies such as carrot and turnip or eggplant. Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
• A little chicken stock
• Preserved lemon wedges
• Pitted green olives
1. Start with boneless, skinless chicken pieces, sliced or pounded less than ½-inch thick. Pat the chicken dry, then very generously sprinkle with the ras-el-hanout. Don’t salt yet — the salt will begin to “cure” the chicken. Put the chicken into a plastic bag and marinate in the refrigerator all day or overnight.
2. Put a nice spill of olive oil in the skillet and, over moderate heat, sauté the chicken until it’s nicely browned. While you sauté the chicken, cut up the veggies. Cut hard veggies smaller than the pepper; you want them softer.
3. Now season the chicken with the sea salt and pepper. It doesn’t need to be cooked through yet. Remove to a plate while you sauté all the vegetables, adding another sprinkle of spice plus sea salt to taste. When the veggies soften a bit, nestle the chicken pieces back into the skillet, pushing them to the bottom. Add just a little chicken stock, cover and simmer until the chicken is tender and thoroughly cooked.
4. Scrape the pulp from preserved lemon wedges, cut the rind into slivers and add to the skillet. Add the green olives. Cover the skillet and continue to simmer gently for another few minutes.
5. Prepare couscous according to the proportions on the box, stirring a pinch of saffron if you have it into the water before you add the couscous.
6. Serve the chicken and veggies over the couscous, arranging it so some lemon and olives are on top as garnish.
On a cold day, nothing short of brandy is as warming as spicy Chai. On a steamy hot summer day, serve over ice.
Many years ago, I had never heard of Chai when I read a piece in a magazine. It sounded tempting, so I tried some. The original recipe I tried directed mixing all the spices, heating them in water and then adding milk and sugar directly to the mixture, bringing that back almost to a boil, then straining out the spices. That was the way I made it for awhile until I decided it was much too messy and too milky. Here’s the way I do it now.
• ¼ tsp whole cloves
• ½ tsp whole coriander seeds
• ½ tsp preserved (candied) ginger
• ½ tsp whole black peppercorns
• ½ tsp whole fennel seeds
• 1 tsp whole green cardamom pods
• 1 tsp whole allspice
• about a tsp crushed nutmeg
• 1 whole star anise
• 2 inches cinnamon stick
• 1 heaping tbsp black tea leaf
• 3 cups cold water
• 4 tbsp best honey, to taste
• milk, to taste
1. For efficiency, I mix several batches of spice and tea in individual small plastic bags so I can just grab one already blended when I want Chai.
2. Put the spices into the water and bring to a boil. Steep the tea and spices in a teapot, then strain into mugs, add honey to taste and milk if you like milk in your tea. If you have a big tea strainer or little muslin bags that works even better.
Wendy Akin is happy to share her years of traditional skills knowledge. Over the years, she’s earned many state fair ribbons for pickles, relishes, preserves and special condiments, and even a few for breads. Read all of Wendy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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