4 North-African Spice Mixes to Elevate Your Cooking.
We’ve all been there, the diner menu block, the apathy of the “more of the same”, the need for something exotic to eat, to be surprised, to feel the sun in our food, if not on our skin.
You’ve mastered the Indian curry, you impressed your guests with your vegan Thai soup or your Pho. The time has come to head to the spice market at your nearest Middle-Eastern or Indian grocer and load your kitchen and your home with the aroma of North-African aromas. When was the last time you ate a vegan tajine, right?
Here are 4 spice mixtures that come to us from the beginning of time. Though curry started in the Indian subcontinent more than 3000 years ago, by the second millennium, the trading of spices had reached the Middle East and North Africa. Cumin, cinnamon and nutmeg quickly became central to the cuisine of the region, until today.
The spice mixtures below all tend to be variations on the basic four spices’ theme that gave birth to curry in India: cumin, coriander, red chillies and turmeric but with warmer notes introduced by cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.
The spices are usually roasted whole and then ground together. We recommend that you do your roasting and grounding yourself. A swish in a cast iron pan (do not let it smoke) and then a spin in your coffee grinder or your blender will do the trick. Do not prepare them in advance but rather on the spot for freshness and pungency.
Though dishes in North Africa bare the same names in all countries (couscous, tajine, harira soup etc.), the spices vary from region to region. Each country prides itself on its unique blend and people can travel far to get to the spice stalls with the best mixes.
Most Common african spices
- “Bahārāt”, which is used all over North Africa includes cumin seeds, cloves, coriander seeds, cardamom, paprika and black pepper. It is used in many sauces or just as a loose seasoning to be eaten with
- “Raz El Hanout” is a mixture that may have originated in Morocco, which comprises a dozen spices among which the 4 basic Indian curry spices (cumin, turmeric, red chillies, coriander) plus cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, dry ginger, coriander seeds, paprika and fenugreek. It is used in couscous, tajines and stews and though not spicy it gives a rich pungent flavor to the dishes.
- “Tabil” is to Algeria and Tunisia what garam masala is to India. It is combination of caraway, chili, coriander, red chillies and cumin. Some people add rose petals or fennel seeds to the mix. It’s perfect on roasted vegetables before putting them on the grill or in salads.
- “Qalat daqqa” is a five-spice mixture from Tunisia. It includes cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, peppercorns, and grains of paradise (also called melegueta peppers, they are from the ginger family but taste more like cardamom). It is used to season vegetables, tajines, stews and couscous.
You will see that your recipes will become strikingly different in spite of similar vegetables and grains. Try for example to make your favorite couscous recipe with either Raz El Hanout or some Qalat Daqqa and you will travel the Mediterranean by just changing the spice-mix, Bon Appetit.