Thursday, September 5, 2013


Ras el hanout meaning 'best of the shop' is a Moroccan spice blend that, much like Indian garam masala or even American barbecue rubs, has endless regional variations. It does have staple ingredients including turmeric, allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, coriander, cloves, paprika, cardamom, with other things like rose buds, saffron, and various berries or pepper mixed in based on the region and blender's choice.

I'm no expert on ras el hanout but one day when I was shopping at the Rainbow co-op market where I normally shop, and often stare at the countless spices they have in bulk, I saw ras el hanout. I'd heard of it and read about it but never cooked with it... so what? Rome wasn't built in a day, was it?

Rainbow not only allows but encourages shoppers to bring their own containers. In addition to my usual olive and coffee jars, I'd brought along a few spice jars that were running on empty, and I had an extra one so in went a very generous amount of ras el hanout.

FFwd to last night. First day back in office after a few weeks of being at various project sites with 14 hour days starting at 5 AM that involve no sitting but a lot of climbing, squatting, kneeling, and walking in all varieties of the summer sun. And of course, I was eating out at every meal. So when I finally got into the kitchen I was craving something warm, nourishing, and comforting. Something casserole-y, something like risotto, something like khichadi, something aromatic, something easy to make, not too laborious. Enter rice, lentils, ras el hanout... and me.

Rice, Red Lentils, and Vegetables with Ras el Hanout
Servings: 4, as a main dish

- 1/2 cup Jasmine rice or other rice of choice
- 1/2 cup red lentils
- 2 shallots or 1 small yellow onion, sliced
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1-1/2 tsp. caraway seeds
- 1-1/2 tsp. fennel seeds
- 1 tbsp. or more, ras el hanout
- 1 tsp. turmeric (optional)
- 1 tsp. red pepper powder, or crushed 'flakes'
- 1 tbsp. ghee or expeller-pressed virgin coconut oil (or any other high temperature cooking oil - NOT olive oil)
- vegetables of your choice, diced
- 2 tbsp. flame raisins
- 2 cups water, or enough to completely cover the rice, lentils, and vegetables (see #10 below)
- 3 tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped

1. Put the rice and lentils in a bowl and rinse until the water runs nearly clear. Drain.
2. Add warm/hot water to the bowl enough to cover the rice and lentils and let everything soak while you prep the vegetables. The hottest kitchen faucet water is hot enough for this.
3. Cut the vegetables into chunks that are fairly same-sized, so that they cook uniformly.
4. Heat the coconut oil on medium heat in a large pan, till a fennel seed dropped into it sizzles.
5. Add the fennel and caraway seeds and let them sizzle until you can smell the aroma.
6. Add the shallot and garlic and saute till the shallot is translucent and is just getting a bit brown.
7. Add the cut vegetables and spices and saute everything for 5 minutes. Stir often enough to prevent vegetables from sticking to the pan or burning.
8. Drain the rice and lentil mixture.
9. Add to the pan and saute on medium-low heat for 2-3 minutes along with the vegetables.
10. Add enough water to cover the rice, lentils, and vegetable mixture.
11. Turn the heat to high. When everything starts to bubble a bit, turn the heat to low.
12. Cover and cook on low for 10-15 minutes.
13. Uncover, add the raisins and give it all a quick stir.
14. If the rice isn't cooked yet, cover the pan and let everything cook for another 5 minutes or so.
15. When it's cooked, turn off the heat and add the chopped parsley.
16. Enjoy!

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