First tell us this: do you have a good supply of belladonna leaves and orrisroot on hand?

Your question is similar to asking, "what are curry seasonings." That is, it's almost impossible to answer. There is a very aromatic blend of spices used in Morocco in a variety of dishes called Ras el Hanout, and it is probably this mixture that your recipes are calling for. The problem is that there is no one recipe for ras el hanout; indeed, there are probably as many recipes for it as there are cooks in Morocco. It can contain as few as 10 spices or more than 100.

Paula Wolfert, author of Couscous and Other Good Foods from Morocco, says she bought some ras el hanout in Fez years ago and had it analyzed in New York. That sample contained 26 ingredients, including ash berries, belladonna leaves, cantharides, galingale, and monk's pepper (cantharides, another name for the beetle known as Spanish fly, and monk's pepper being only two of the supposed aphrodisiacs that occasionally find their way into ras el hanout).

Ms. Wolfert worked out the following recipe for ras el hanout that excludes the most un-obtainable exotic ingredients and the aphrodisiacs. You may still have trouble rounding up some of these ingredients, though. She says it also may take some serious effort to get the aroma out of your blender when you're through.

The name ras el hanout, by the way, translates as "top of the shop," which some have taken to mean "best of the best," but which others believe may simply mean that it was made in the front of the shop.

Ras el Hanout (Moroccan Seasoning) From Couscous and Other Good Foods from Morocco, by Paula Wolfert


4 whole nutmegs 10 rosebuds (dried) 12 cinnamon sticks 12 blades of mace 1 tsp aniseed 8 pieces of turmeric 2 small pieces orrisroot 2 dried cayenne peppers 1/2 tsp lavender 1 Tbsp white peppercorns 2 pieces galingale 2 Tbsp whole gingerroot 6 cloves 24 allspice berries 20 white or green cardamom pods 4 wild (black) cardamom pods


Grind all the ingredients in a blender until you obtain a fine mix, and pass it through a strainer.