While in Morocco, I became obsessed with the spice blend known as “Ras el Hanout,” which translates to “top shelf” in Arabic. Famed, magical and often medicinal, each family has their own Ras el Hanout blend; some with as few as 7 ingredients and many with upwards of 40. Like a family legacy, the recipe is to some, their most prized possession. I inquired about ingredients with every chef, spice merchant, home cook and local I came in contact with. Everyone was so nice and generous, always offering tea, tagine and bread, but no one would offer their recipe!
One day while walking in the Medina, a lively marketplace in the heart of Marrakesh, we wandered through an alley that ran next to a Hammam, a traditional bathhouse. As we passed a dark doorway lit only by the fires beneath the baths, the kind man tending the coals invited us in. Our experiences with the Moroccan people had been incredible up to this point, so it didn’t surprise us at all when he pulled a large clay pot out of the ashes to reveal succulent slow-cooked lamb. The aroma was so intoxicating, my mouth instantly began to water. We broke bread and he gestured for us to dip into the hot juices and enjoy his creation as he serenaded us with a Sitar. I savored every bite, instantly knowing this meal would be the highlight of my trip. As humbled as I was by his warm hospitality, generosity and incredible food, I still could not help but ask again my question, “what is the secret to your Ras el Hanout?” He smiled and simply said, “rose petals.” My eyes lit up as he then explained that he puts rose petals in his food, as it is made with love. It’s no surprise that my Marrakesh Sitar blend contains aromatics and florals inspired by that unforgettable meal, and includes granulated honey, orange peel, ginger and of course, rose petals.