Moroccan spices can transform a dish from a dull salad into a sea of delicious aromas and flavors. There is no one Moroccan mix that goes with all recipes. It’s therefore a good idea to learn something about what the various Moroccan spices are and how to use them to transform your cooking.
We’ll also look at recipes for some standard spice mixtures in Moroccan dishes.
Turmeric is that gorgeous golden powder that you can find in lattes nowadays, as well as in many curries. Turmeric is well-known for its anti-inflammatory properties, and in Moroccan cuisine, its delicious taste is used in tagines and chebakia (a Moroccan pastry). Turmeric is also excellent for flavoring rice.
Ginger (Skine Jubair)
In Moroccan cooking, ginger can be used fresh, but it is usually used in its dried, powdered form. You’ll find ginger in many Moroccan dishes with both meat and fish.
Cayenne is the powder that results when you grind small, dried red chili peppers, and it adds a spicy, hot flavor to savory dishes. These chili peppers are related to bell peppers and jalapeños and are often made into a paste such as harissa (see recipe below).
Mace is quite similar to nutmeg, but with a softer taste. Mace is used in dishes where nutmeg might be too strong. As mace is more expensive than nutmeg, you can usually find mace in spice mixtures rather than on its own. Mace is used in both savory dishes and baked goods.
Gum Arabic (Maska Horra)
Gum Arabic is another fancy spice that doesn’t add taste as such. Gum Arabic helps oil-based flavors such as citrus remain evenly suspended in water, and is often used as a food and beverage additive. In Moroccan cuisine, the crystals are melted and added to water to add texture to recipes.
Cumin seeds are often ground and used as a powder to spice up meat dishes such as kabobs. Not every Moroccan dish uses cumin, although it is typically added to Moroccan spice blends for flavoring tagines and vegetables, as well as couscous.
Cinnamon is used as sticks or as a ground powder, and you’ll find it in the deliciously sweet and sour tagines with apricots and chicken. Cinnamon also is used to spice up couscous with raisins and slivered almonds.
Aniseed is commonly used in vegetable dishes and some bread recipes, and it brings a sweet, licorice flavor to both savory and sweet dishes. Fennel or caraway seeds are often used as substitutes.
Coriander (Coriandrum Sativum)
Coriander seeds are dried and ground, and they bring a lemon-like flavor to many Moroccan dishes. Vegetable dishes and pastries are often flavored with coriander, and the fresh herb leaves (cilantro) makes an attractive garnish.
Black Pepper (Ibzar)
Black pepper is very common in savory Moroccan dishes and is used freshly ground for flavoring savory dishes.
Paprika (Felfa Hlouwa)
Paprika adds flavor and color to tomato dishes and salads in Moroccan cooking. Paprika is, in fact, dried and ground sweet peppers (red or green).
Saffron is well-known to be the most expensive spice in the world. Saffron adds a beautiful golden color to rice dishes and soups as well as its nutty flavor.
Ras el Hanout is excellent for flavoring lamb or chicken dishes, such as tagine, which can be made in a tagine pot like this one: https://unocasa.com/products/tagine-pot.
This recipe makes 6 tablespoons of spice mixture.
- 3 teaspoons ground cumin
- 3 teaspoons ground ginger
- 3 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Mix the ingredients well. Store the spice mixture in a jar in a dry place, where it will keep for weeks.
This recipe makes approximately 1 cup of harissa.
- 3 cups dried chili peppers
- 5 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 ½ teaspoons rock salt
- 1 ½ teaspoons anise (caraway) seeds
- 1 ½ teaspoons cumin powder
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Soak the chilis for 15 minutes. In the meantime, toast the spices lightly in a dry frying pan for a few minutes (this enhances the flavors).
Now process all ingredients together in a food processor or blender.
Pour the result into a glass jar and top up with extra olive oil, if needed. Store your harissa in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or in the freezer for up to 2 months.