As my ingredient introductions come close to an end (I have one more and it’ll be a year’s worth!), I’ve been soliciting suggestions on social media.
Well, for my birthday (I turned 32 in January) my Aunt Karen sent me a package. She told me she’d explain it when I got it. I love surprises!
Inside the box, I found an array of edible presents.
She told me they were options for my ingredient introductions!
I was so excited. Oh, and inside the box were several of her homemade black-and-white cookies, my favorite!!
It was hard to pick one out of the extensive selection of sauces, chocolates, and spices, but I did.
There was a little box labeled “RAS EL HANOUT.”
In Arabic the name means “Head of the Shop.” It comes from the notion that the blend is made from the best spices the seller had to offer.
There’s no precise list of what has to be included in the mixture, but it can include up to 30 different herbs, spices, and roots.
The brand I got came from England and included vegetable bouillon (sea salt, onion powder, celery powder, carrot powder, rapeseed oil, sugar, ground spice, garlic powder, herb, spice extract, turmeric extract), coriander, cinnamon, ginger, lavender flowers, rose petals, black pepper, cayenne pepper, cassia (cinnamon bark), galangal (Asian ginger), pimento, mace (like nutmeg), nutmeg, cardamom, and clove!
You can’t imagine the aroma of this blend.
I used it to make lamb meatballs in an aromatic tomato sauce. I served it with cucumber-mint yogurt and fried plantain strips.
Here’s what you need:
1 pound of ground lamb
1 small cooking onion
1/4 cup yellow corn meal
1 Tbsp. Ras El Hanout
1 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
1 large red onion, sliced
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
3 tsp. Ras El Hanout
1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup of Greek yogurt
1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. dried mint
Let me point out that the lamb isn’t cheap.
It cost me $10 for the one pound. I felt it was worth it, because the exotic flavor would help celebrate the spice blend. If you don’t want to pay that much, or you don’t like lamb, use ground beef. But let me tell you, the gaminess of the lamb (which typically turns off my partner in cuisine crime) doesn’t stand out in this dish.
Another thing to note: I used corn meal because I didn’t have bread crumbs. I really didn’t notice a big difference.
Now for the recipe.
Make the yogurt first. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, and let it sit in the fridge while you make the meatballs.
To make the plantain chips, use a mandolin or vegetable peeler to make thin strips from the peeled plantains. Drop them into a skillet with canola oil and fry till golden brown. Remove and let drain on papertowels. Salt immediately.
For the meatballs:
Heat a large non-stick skillet (big enough to make the sauce, too). Add just a little bit of olive oil, about a tablespoon.
Using wet hands, roll the meatballs and drop them into the skillet. You can make them as small or big as you want. Mine were about the size of golfballs.
Remove the browned meatballs and let them drain on paper towels.
In the same pan you used for the meatballs, add the sliced onion. Do this over medium-high heat.
The left olive oil and any fat that came from the meat, will brown the onions nicely.
Add the Ras El Hanout, red pepper flakes, and a good pinch of salt. Stir.
Add the chickpeas. Stir.
Add the meatballs, coat them in the sauce, and let them sit for about 5-10 minutes while you get your plate ready.
For an extra treat, I served this with Greek salad and a hunk of bread to soak up the tomato sauce.
The meatballs were tender, flavor grenades that exploded with every bite. This tomato sauce is rich, and aromatic. You can taste the spice blend. The chickpeas give a nice texture and creaminess. I love the cooling sensation you get from the yogurt. The plantain chips are crunchy, salty, and slightly sweet.
Thanks Aunt Karen!
Tip: Use Ras El Hanout as a popcorn seasoning. Drizzle on a little butter, and sprinkle on the spice mixture. Shake or stir, and serve.