Ras el hanout, a Pantry Special (Recipe: butternut squash soup)
Pantry Specials are great ingredients that find their way into my pantry from time to time, but not all the time.
Some ingredients defy description. Arabic for "head of the market", or "top of the shop", ras el hanout is a blend of up to 30 individual herbs and spices, often including nutmeg and mace, cinnamon, turmeric, cayenne, ginger, cardamom, black pepper, allspice and cloves. In the souks of Morocco, spice merchants take pride in offering the most complex, aromatic, and exotic ras el hanout (it's said you can even get a custom blend, with hashish!). A Tunisian or Algerian ras el hanout might contain only half a dozen spices. Each household creates a unique formulation, much as Indian cooks mix their own garam masala or curry powder (both of which can substitute, in a pinch, for ras el hanout). The sum is greater than the parts; ras el hanout adds warmth and depth to many dishes, especially long-cooked tagines, stews, and couscous.
Is this Pantry Special new to you?
Make your own ras el hanout
Make your own (a slightly different version)
Where to buy online:
Zamouri Spices (2 oz jar, $6.95)
The Spice House (2 oz bag, $4.59)
How to use ras el hanout:
Ras el hanout chicken skewers
Moroccan carrot dip
Grilled shrimp and vegetable skewers
Honey spiced lamb
Warm Hokkaido squash and white bean salad
Stuffed cabbage tagine
Ras el hanout madeleines
Butternut squash soup
A hybrid of several of my favorite soups, this freezes well. Make it vegan by substituting water for the chicken broth. Serves 6-8.
4 tsp olive oil
2 small butternut squash, peeled, cut into large chunks
1 small sweet potato, peeled, cut into chunks
1 medium onion, cut into chunks
2 small tart apples, cored (but skin left on), cut into chunks
2 tsp sweet curry powder
1 heaping tsp ras el hanout
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 quart chicken stock (homemade or low-sodium store-bought)
1 Tbsp agave nectar or honey
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
In a 6- or 8-quart stockpot, heat the oil over medium heat, and add the squash, sweet potatoes and onion. Stir and cook for 5 minutes or until the onion is translucent, and the squash is starting to lose its raw appearance. Add the apples, stir, and cook for 3 minutes. Add curry powder, ras el hanout, and cayenne, and stir to combine. Cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes, or until the spices are a bit toasted. Add chicken stock, plus water to almost cover the vegetables. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to simmer and cook partially-covered for 30 minutes, until the vegetables are quite soft.
Remove the pot from the stove, and puree with an immersion blender (or puree in batches in a blender or food processor) until smooth. Season with agave, lemon juice and black pepper and, if you want more heat, add a few drops of Tabasco sauce. Return the pot to the stove, and simmer over lowest heat for 5 minutes to blend the flavors; or, if you would like a thicker soup, continue to simmer, uncovered, to desired consistency.
More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Sweet potato, lentil and raisin stew
Lamb tagine with prunes and apricots
Braised fish, Tunisian style
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ras el hanout is a spice i often bring back from dubai. i just have not been able to find it here! but i love all the exotic spices that make a complex ras el hanout. in dubai at the spice markets you can even mix your own - with the help of the vendor who guides the buyer, explaining what purpose each spice has and what flavors it will bring out!
Aha! So that is why that soup was so good,....a secret ingredient!
Thanks for info on making/buying ras el hanout.
Love Meeta's comments!
You had me until curry. I love my butternut squash soup without curry.
Lydia, that reads like a list of regular spices until you start thinking about them all together - ones you don't often see together. I'm liking the sound of this. Must try. And that carrot dip might be the one I go back to but the soup would be fine too.
Interesting....I have started my preserved lemons and we are planning a trip to NYC after Thanksgiving. I may have to go to our two favorite spice shops to see if I can get some of this. Thanks for expanding my cooking horizons!
Thanks for the recipe. I just complained about the lack of good info on ras al hanout in a disappointing book I was reviewing on my blog. So this helps.
Thanks for posting this, Lydia! I love this spice blend and it needs more exposure. Lovely recipe.
I was just starting to look for a receipe for squash soup, I have a bunch of interesting ones that I collected to use for painting still life. thanks
I have some ras-el-hanout in my cupboard actually. I bought it after doing a Moroccan cooking course but I've never used it! I love making pumpkin soup (in Australia we call it a butternut pumpkin rather than a butternut squash but it's the same vegetable) but I've never done a spicy version so I'll definitely have to try this!
This looks really tasty - a great way to dress up butternut squash. I usually mix up my own blend of spices, although I'll admit to using garam masala when I'm in a real rush.
I'm so glad it's soup weather. It even snowed yesterday. Nothing more comforting than a bowl of golden butternut soup.
ras-el-hanout has to be the coolest spice name ever.
I've read of hash :0 in the hanout, but I think it's heady enough without the stuff. My blend has lavender and crushed rose petals in it. Thanks for all the great recipe options and the mention of mine.
One of my favorite spice mixes...although I change it every time I need it, lol. The soup sounds like an absolutely delicious place to show it off
Oh I just love this spice mixture, I use it in Moroccan Tagine cooking. I'm lucky enough to have a wonderful spice shop just a mile away from my house that blends their own version of ras el hanout! Thanks for the soup recipe, I love that there is sweet potaotes in there too, that would definately add to the rich flavor of the soup.
That is a completely new spice blend to me! I'll have to be on the look out for it.
I love ras el hanout and use it often. We make tagine here at home, and I've also done a special brisket for a Passover catering...quite delicious braised with apricots and pomegranate molasses. In Seattle a good blend can be found at World Spice Merchants. It's available whole or ground, and they ship! http://www.worldspice.com/blends/0459raselhanout.shtml
Oh, wow man, tink I get version wid cash...bash...hash. Far out. Now I've got munchies, must leave food hogs for real thing.
Lydia, this is a new pantry item for me, thank you for expanding my horizons!
I checked your site, but could not find a list with your favorite places to mail order spices. Do you have suggestions?
I want to make this, and best of all I have a little container of that identical Ras el hanout! Amazing isn't it?
Oh this soup would be heaven...I can only dream of the aroma.
Got to get me some "Ras" in the pantry.
Very nice recipes.. I have a bit of ras el hanout and don't really know what to do with it.
apples! love that, must try. I adore squash soups with lots of spice
I love this stuff! Great with roasted chicken and a greek feta salad! One of NIgella Lawson's major ingredients too!!
I have learned so much about spice combinations from my friends in the blogosphere. I love the fact that each family creates their own signature mix. And I have to say that butternut squash soup is one of my favorite autumn soups.
Meeta, it's not that easy to find ras el hanout in the markets here, either, but we are lucky to have several good Indian spice stores in Providence and Boston.
Marcia, Bev, Rupert: this is the soup I made for our election night dinner. Yummy, wasn't it?
Peabody, go ahead and leave out the curry powder. You can up the amount of ras el hanout.
MyKitchen, there are so many interesting carrot-based Moroccan recipes.
HB, what a perfect souvenir of a visit to NYC!
Mae, Aimee, Pam: this is definitely an under-utilized spice blend. Let's change that.
Caitlin, I think you'll like this -- the soup was a real hit with my friends on election night.
Fearless, Susan, Mike: I haven't yet gotten into mixing up my own ras el hanout. That's the next step, as I usually have most of the component spices in my pantry.
Karina, agreed! I am deep into soup mode now.
Jason, the sweet potato and apple together really bring out the sweetness of the squash, and you need the lemon and hot sauce to balance it.
Lesa, thanks for sharing another source for spices online. Your brisket recipe sounds intriguing....
Neil, off to the souk with you!
Gudrun, in the center sidebar there is a link to Favorite Food Shopping Sources.
Kalyn, so glad we stopped into the spice shop when you were visiting Boston!
Peter, yes, you do -- you will love experimenting with ras el hanout.
Jude, hope this list of recipes from the food blog world helps you get started with your ras.
Lobster, I love a bit of a kick, too. Squash is so sweet on its own, and I really like the balance of heat with it.
Freya, now I really will have to delve into Nigella's cookbooks!
TW, I'm partial to butternut squash soup, too, and am always looking for ways to tweak my basic recipe. The ras el hanout really added a lovely dimension to this one.
I've been wondering what to do with that small tub of ras el hanout I've got!!
Ras El Hanout is one of my favorite spice mixes! That soup must taste really good!
Pille, a good way to start with ras el hanout is to add a bit to curry dishes and to any kind of stew that contains dried fruit. Once you get started, I'm sure you'll be using it a lot.
Rosa, the soup is delicious! But I'm always looking for new ways to use this spice blend, so I'd love to know what kind of dishes you're making. Will go check your blog!