Ras el hanout
Ras el hanout - the spice mixture, not exactly the Alice B Toklas mix.
(Dinner plate - Rosenthal "Landscape" 2008 - Patricia Urquiola, architect).
By 1907, the Americans, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas were comfortably settled in Paris and were home to writers and artists such as Hemingway, Picasso, Matisse. Stein managed the salon, Toklas, supported, ran the house and cooked.
After the war, Stein died unexpectantly, leaving a badly organised will, with Toklas caring for the collection and very little to live on. To make ends meet, in 1954 she published The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook which was a run-away success with its collection of French and American recipes.
Today the book is mainly known for its memoir of their lives together and for two recipes; ras el hanout and hashish fudge (given to her by Brion Gysin, friend and Surrealist).
There is a Youtube Alice B. Toklas Hash Fudge on making hashish fudge which looks like a hip health-food bar or protein ball, chock-a-block full of nuts, dates and dried figs - yum. (Toklas warned that 2 pieces are ample for a lively evening.)
Her ras el hanout is a mixture of around fifteen ingredients, three of which you may wish to omit. (1) Spanish fly, known as an aphrodisiac is the crushed secretion (cantharidin) of the blister beetle (lytta vesicatoria) and causes itching and swelling of the appropriate organs, so we can live without that. (2) Dried mariuhana heads might be put to better use and (3) the crushed rose petals I recommend only if you dry them yourself. (Those supplied for potpourri have been dangerously sprayed.)
Ras el hanout – my mixture
This looks like a mix of anything you can lay your hands on, a hodgepodge, the more the merrier, but it's indeed quite glorious. You can buy it in supermarkets, I hear, but the liveliness of the mix is more apparent when you make your own. You can also lean a bit towards your favoured spice (e.g. introduce fennel seeds if you're doing a vegetable or fish dish). It should be spicy with a hint of the sweet and floral.
Use it liberally, anytime, anywhere, roughly 3 teaspoons in a dish for 4 people.
1 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Coriander
1 tsp Cumin
1 tsp Ground Ginger
1 tsp Peppercorns
½ tsp Allspice
½ tsp Cardamom
½ tsp Cloves (4 whole)
½ tsp Paprika/Cayenne (your call, heat-wise)
½ tsp Turmeric
½ tsp Salt
(As an aside, might I suggest a double recipe, in a small re-usable clip-lock box, as an unusual and creative house present along with your bottle of wine.)
Grind fresh as many whole spices as possible or on hand. My mother's Algerian, brass mortar and pestle is useful but now that George Cluny makes my coffee, my coffee grinder is dedicated to spices.
In North African cuisine, where the preference is for softer, less acrid pungency, the spices are not dry roasted. Ras el hanout is similar to the Israeli baharat, but think also of the Indian panch phoron or garam masala, the French quatre épices. They are very useful.
(Stein & Toklas, both with rabbinical Jewish parents, were collaborators during the war, disturbingly accepting help from the Vichy government to live safely on the Swiss border. Their collection of art works was not plundered.)
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