After 3 years of living with Moroccan host families and making countless trips to the market, I consider myself a Moroccan spice expert.
It's All About Flavor
Seasoning can make or break a dish. Too much and you are overwhelmed; too little and you enter the dangerous realm of bland. With Moroccan recipes, there is no need to fear. Every creation has the perfect balance of tangy and sweet, salty and spicy. The equilibrium of flavors is achieved by using a wide range of spices. These spices are the pillars of any Moroccan dish.
- Black Pepper
- Ras Dial Hanut
- Cayenne Pepper
- Thyme (Za'atar)
Ginger makes an impression. It adds a great kick to any dish. In Morocco, people use ginger in tajines and chicken recipes. Ginger takes the spotlight in harira, a thick tomato-based soup eaten during Ramadan. Lubia, a white bean stew, also has a good amount of ground ginger. Easy to make and filled with healthy ingredients, this dish is popular for lunch. Feeling inspired? Try making it yourself!
Lubia (White Bean Stew)
- 1 pound dried white beans (soak them overnight)
- 1 medium onion (grated)
- 3 juicy tomatoes (grated)
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley and cilantro (chopped)
- 3 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
- 1 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- pinch of salt
- pinch of hot pepper
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- Put all ingredients into a pressure cooker.
- Add 2 liters of water and simmer.
- Cover it and cook on pressure over medium heat for 40 minutes.
- If the stew is still watery, let some of the water burn off.
- Taste as you go. If you want to add more spices then go for it!
The bright orange spice is crucial in many Moroccan dishes.
- Chicken, preserved lemon and olive tajine
- Lamb and prune tajine
- Chicken and vegetable tajine
- Maakouda—deep-fried potato beignet
- Sfa—Moroccan chicken with vermicelli
Probably the most-used spice in a Moroccan kitchen, cumin is the base for almost all savory dishes. Cucumber and tomato salad, tajines, and meat recipes all require the spice.
5. Black Pepper
Both spices are used primarily in tajines.
6. Ras Dial Hanut (Head of the Store)
Like a mystery? Well, this spice can give you one. A secret mix of spices are blended together to create a masterpiece. Every shopkeeper has their own ingredient list; therefore, no ras dial hanut is ever the same. Some say cumin, turmeric, and paprika are the essentials for this mix. Others say black pepper and ginger are the prominent spices.
7. Cayenne Pepper
Cayenne pepper is a great addition if you like spicy. One of the best things about cayenne is its universality. Toss a pinch, or in my case a handful, on Moroccan lentils or in a marinade.
The most notable use of cinnamon is in sfa. Sfa is a dish with vermicelli, chicken, powdered sugar, peanuts, raisins, and cinnamon. Chicken is placed in the middle of a platter and covered with buttered noodles. Roasted peanuts, confectioner sugar, raisins, and cinnamon are added as a garnish. This dish is eaten hot. Cinnamon is also a big player in pastilla, a flaky layered pastry with ground almonds, shredded chicken, and confectioner sugar.
9. Thyme (Za'atar)
Dried thyme is mixed with toasted sesame seeds, dried marjoram, and sumac. The result? A uniquely aromatic spice exclusive to the Middle East. Moroccans use it with chicken, meats, and breads. I like to take this blend and mix it with salt and olive oil. Then, I throw it on chicken thighs as a marinade. After a few hours, I pop it in the oven and let it roast. I use the leftover oil to grill peppers or eggplant.
Spice Shopping Tips
Don't be afraid to ask for a sample. Shopkeepers are happy to let you try a bit of the spice before you buy it. Also, don't forget to use your nose as a tester. If you are planning on living in Morocco for an extended period of time, find a spice shop you like and stick with it. I have been going to the same one for over a year and love the owners—especially when they throw in some spices for free.