Tomorrow is my second chef-in-residence session at Leighton House and it is all about spice mixtures including as ras el-hanout, a mixture of nearly 30 different spices including various chillies, dried roses, the aphrodisiac Spanish fly (for which use the marquis de Sade ended up in prison; the sad thing is I did have some given to me by Lulu Grimes but I don’t remember where I stashed them), cardamom, cloves, turmeric, cinnamon and ginger. Oddly enough ras el-hanout is not used that often, being added to some sweet-spicy tagines, game dishes and kefta. In winter people use it to make an infusion to cure colds because it has warming properties. Ras el-hanout means ‘head of the shop’ which reflects the value of its elaborate preparation. Its quality and composition vary from one spice merchant to another and from one family to the other. It is sold both in ground form or with the spices left whole as in the picture about, although you need to know your spices well to use the latter as you have to grind the right amount of each. You can find it in the West already ground and packed in small sealed jars or in plastic sachets but often the mixture you buy here is less complex relying heavily on more common spices.
I will also be talking about the following mixtures:
A Lebanese/Syrian mixture that will vary from family to family and from one region to the other, The classic mix is made up of ground black and white pepper, allspice, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and coriander. You can find pretty good coomercial brands but purists in Lebanon, and abroad for that matter, will mix their own or have a spice merchant prepare the mixture to their recipe and grind it for them.
A mixture that is specific to the South of Lebanon and used with kibbeh, (minced lamb and burghul). Lebanese Southerners make their kibbeh differently from the rest of the country. They mix the rinsed burghul with the frakeh mixture which can be be made with fresh herbs such as marjoram, basil and parsley and dried rosebuds and peppers or it can be made up with a much headier mixture of dried herbs and spices that includes dried marjoram and basil, rosebuds, black pepper, allspice, cinnamon and whatever else the spice maker feels like adding although it will never be very complex.
B’harat means spices in Arabic and this Tunisian mixture is a simple melange of dried rosebuds and cinnamon that is used in both baking and cooking.
The word advieh is used to indicate a mixture of spices a little like masala is used in India. In fact, garam masala is derived from the Persian garm which means hot and masaleh which means ingredients. Advieh is the Arabic plural for medicines and it is possible that spice mixtures were once used for medicinal purposes. There are different regional adviehs such as one from the Persian Gulf for hearty dishes, another from the Central Provinces for delicate dishes and a fragrant one that also includes pistachios and saffron to add a luxurious touch to rice dishes.
Emirati spice mixture
A heady mixture made up of quite a few spices that are washed, dried in the sun then ground. The proportions for a classic mix are one part black peppercorns, cumin seed and coriander seeds, a quarter part whole cloves, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, dried chillies, cardamom roots and ground turmeric one third part ground ginger, together with a few whole nutmegs (if the one part is a cup, then you would use 4 nutmegs).
Qatari Spice mixture
Fairly similar to the Emirati spice mixture. It is paler in colour and with a different aroma. I suspect that many of the spices are the same but the ratios are different.
Commercial Spice Mixtures for everything from Kibbeh to Falafel, Shawarma and so on.
Look forward to seeing you some of you at Leighton House. I will be there from 2 to 4 pm.