Ras el Hanout: Essential, Exotic Spice Blend for Persian Cooking #Persiana

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The cover of Sabrina Ghayour’s magical Middle-Eastern recipe book Persiana

If, like me, you’re an acolyte of Persian cook and writer Sabrina Ghayour and the intoxicating Middle-Eastern recipes in her new cookbook Persiana, you’ll be needing some Moroccan ras el hanout spice blend sooner or later.

I originally published this much simplified ras el hanout recipe below in my book ‘Relish: Easy Sauces, Seasonings and Condiments to make at home’. (There are more than 280 recipes in Relish, so if you dig making your own stuff at home, it might be a handy book for you to acquire. Even has recipes for home-made vinegar from scratch, mascarpone and soft white cheese in it!)

‘Ras el hanout’ means ‘head of the shop’ and refers to a master blend sold by Middle Eastern and North African spice merchants, containing the very finest selection of spices they have available. It’s fancy, extravagant, seductive and incredibly aromatic. Potent, too: a little goes a long way.

It’s no secret that I love to cook with spices and I have a huge selection in little glass jars. When I wanted to make a batch of ras el hanout today – after spending many hours poring over Persiana’s pages, planning the next week’s cooking – I was pretty certain that I had all the required spices in stock.

Except dried rose petals, I thought – until lightbulb flash! I remembered the packet of tiny pink rosebuds I’d bought a while ago, to use as a soothing infusion for my tea-obsessed daughter. Rose petals are frequently used in Persian and some Arabic cuisines, mostly as a finishing and perfuming agent. There really is no substitute for it at all, and it is vital that the roses have not been sprayed with any insecticides or other poisons. Only 100% organic roses will do, if you want to dry your own petals.. VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: You can’t use rose petals destined for pot pourri! Those petals have been treated with orris root and other fixatives which are not safe for consumption at all.

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Tiny, fragrant dried organic rosebuds available from New Asia Spice, Main Road Sea Point, or directly from www.teamills.co.za

These little buds are perfect. Delicately perfumed, perfectly dried, totally affordable, they will suit your Persiana cooking excursions very well. If you live in Cape Town, get some from New Asia Spice, that small and perfectly formed Asian produce store and grocer on Main Road in Sea Point – it’s diagonally across the road from St John’s Piazza. Otherwise, order directly from source at TeaMill – there’s a mind-blowing array of teas to choose from. The remaining ingredients are easily sourced from any Indian or Cape Malay spice merchant. The organic lavender flowers I got from a trader who sells it by the great big sackful at Oranjezicht City Farm Market. Again, you can dry your own unsprayed lavender flowers for this purpose.

Here’s the ras el hanout! Oh, and happy cooking. Persiana is something else, alright.

COOK’S NOTE: I use a Braun electric coffee grinder for the express purpose of grinding whole spices. Clean it after use by grinding a handful of plain dry rice until very fine and discard the rice powder. Use a dry pastry brush with stiff bristles to clean the rotary blade and inside of the grinder.


This famous Moroccan spice blend can contain up to 60 different roots, barks, spices and powders and the name roughly translates as ‘king of the shop’, or masterblend. It can be used in everyday cooking as well as speciality chicken dishes, tagines, rice pilaffs or couscous. This version contains only 17 ingredients. Be sure to use only unsprayed organic rose petals.


1 T (15ml) coriander seeds

1 T (15ml) fennel seeds

1 T (15ml) cumin seeds

1 T (15ml) black mustard seeds

20 small rosebuds, leaves only

1 T (15ml) dried lavender flowers

3cm quill cinnamon

3 star anise flowers

5 bay leaves

12 cardamom pods, dehusked

1 t (5ml) ground nutmeg

1 t (5ml) ground cloves

1 t (5ml) ground black pepper

1 t (5ml) cayenne

1 t (5ml) saffron

1 t (5ml) ground allspice


  1. Toast the first four spices in a dry frying pan until just aromatic and the mustard seeds begin to pop.
  2. Grind finely with the rest of the spices and store in an airtight container for up to 6 months.
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Ras el hanout. Photo by Sean Calitz, from Relish: Easy Sauces, Seasonings and Condiments to make at home. Published by RHS
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Celebrating life with food, wine, friends & happiness! Writer, cook and blogger. Author of four cookbooks. Passionately South African, proudly Capetonian.