Want to sample lamb, cooked in one of Morocco's most iconic spice mixes? Here's how to prepare ras el hanout.

What is it?

Slow-cooked, buttery lamb literally melts off the bone, thanks to hours of tenderizing in a tagine steaming with aromatic ras el hanout, Morocco’s trademark mix of numerous spices.


The Arabic term “ras el hanout” translates as “head of the shop”, an assurance that it’s the best your attar (spice master) in the souk has to offer. While the ingredients and quantities vary (often carefully guarded secrets), the complex blend can feature up to 50 different spices. There are also rumors that it dates back to biblical times, “ras”, being the title for an Ethiopian king. Intriguingly, there are tales of attars customizing it with hashish for special clients!

Ingredients (serves 4)

Lamb Tagine
3 tbs olive oil
2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tbs finely chopped fresh ginger
1kg (2lb) boneless lamb shoulder, cut in chunks
2 tsp ras el hanout (see below for recipe)
2 cinnamon sticks
11/5 cups (300mL) water 800g (1lb 10oz) diced tomatoes
3 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste 175g (6oz) dried apricots Seeds from 1 pomegranate, to serve

Ras El Hanout
1⁄2 tsp roasted cardamom seeds
1⁄2 tsp roasted fennel seeds
1 tbs roasted coriander seeds
1 tbs roasted cumin seeds
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cayenne
2 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp salt
1⁄2 tsp sugar
1⁄2 tsp allspice
2 whole cloves
1⁄4 tsp ground nutmeg

How to cook

1. Heat the oil in a large, deep casserole dish (or tagine!). Add the onions and saute until soft. Stir in the ginger, add the lamb in portions and fry until lightly colored. Return all the meat to the pan.
2. Blend/crush the ras el hanout ingredients in a mortar and pestle of spice grinder, then add 2 tsp to the lamb. Store the remainder in an airtight jar.
3. Stir in cinnamon sticks and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and water and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Add the bay leaves and salt and pepper to taste, then cover and simmer for about 11⁄2 hours, until the meat is tender.
4. Stir in the apricots and heat for 5 minutes.
5. Serve sprinkled with coriander leaves and pomegranate seeds.

colorful spices piled in pyramids at a market stall in Marrakesh
Recipes for ras el hanout are a closely guarded secret and each spice merchant has their own special blend © Manuel Breva Colmeiro / Getty Images

Tasting notes

Imagine wandering the labyrinths of Marrakesh with every sense on red alert: the cacophony of buzzy bartering, blaring Arabic music, vibrant kaftan colors, dodging donkeys and snake charmers. The heady aroma of molten lamb penetrates the incense-laden undertow and you veer in the direction of a quiet rooftop for your first taste of authentic tagine. As the terracotta lid is lifted by your host, revel in the steamy, aromatic anticipation. The first nugget of lamb falls apart on your tongue, unctuous with ras el hanout’s layers of sweet, spicy, warmth, depth. Take a sip of mint tea or perhaps fresh pomegranate juice, tear off some khobz (bread) and dive in again. And again.

Other recipes in this series

Vietnamese pho
Hungarian goulash
New Mexican breakfast burritos

Have you recreated any of the dishes featured in this series so far? Share your pictures with us on Twitter and Instagram by tagging @lonelyplanet. For more great recipes, check out Lonely Planet’s book The World’s Best Spicy Food.

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