Warm butternut squash and chickpeas, spiced up with ras el hanout and drizzled with tahini sauce. Hara bhara seasoned with freshly made garam masala. Do we have your attention now? Oh good. On Thursday, March 27, Rosie Gill will teach us how to make these dishes in a vegetarian-friendly spice mix class. We’ll start by making ras el hanout and garam masala.
Then we’ll use these spice mixes when whipping up various dishes, including our dessert: herb cake with ras el hanout, served with spiced whipped cream. Below is an interview with Rosie, who recently moved back to town after living in San Francisco, where she ran a non-profit cooking and food education center called 18 Reasons. She currently teaches cooking classes for adults and children and is developing an educational program for the Medford Farmers Market. Rosie was one of our early ArtsUnion managers and we’re thrilled to be working with her again!
Nibble: Tell us about Ras El Hanout and Garam Masala.
Rosie: Ras el Hanout is a Moroccan spice blend. The name translates to “head (or top) of the shop” and is a special blend of any number of spices; each cook as their own combination, but most include cardamom, turmeric, anise, and something spicy. Garam masala is indeed Indian and the name means “hot spice blend”. Unlike ras el hanout, the heat refers to the internal warming qualities of key ingredients like cinnamon, ginger, and cloves and not to spiciness.
Nibble: I think I know how you’ll answer this, but is it really worth making your own spice mix, rather than buying a pre-made spice mix?
Rosie: I am coming to terms with being predictable! Yes, making your own spice blends is worth much more than the little time it takes to make them. The aromas are much stronger and you can control proportions (a boon for those who hate anise but love ginger!). Because homemade blends are more pungent, they are also a cost saver, as you can use less than when you use inevitably stale store-bought blends. Also, ounce for ounce, it is cheaper to buy the separate spices and blend them then pay the premium to have someone else blend them. Another nice perk is that making spice blends is a very aesthetically pleasing process! I’m not kidding: when you get all of the whole spices toasting in your pan it makes for a very pretty picture (and nice smelling kitchen).
Nibble: At your spice mixing class on March 27, what dishes will you be concocting using these spice mixes?
Rosie: We will be making traditional dishes from Morocco and India as well as learning how to use these blends in non-traditional ways: to perk up tired go-to recipes, to throw a curveball at other cuisines (ras el hanout and Mexican food are a match made in heaven). For example, we will make saag paneer which traditionally uses garam masala, and then get all crazy and make herb cake with with ras el hanout. All in all we will make 5 dishes, but first, of course, we will make the blends ourselves! Oh yeah, I should also mention that during introductions we’ll nibble on fried mung beans in garam masala and cashew chaat with ras el hanout, which I will have ready before class.
Nibble: All this sounds deliciously exotic! And class participants will go home with spice mixes, too? How long will these mixes last?
Rosie: Yes, everyone will go home with both mixes. They last as long as you are happy with their pungency. You will notice that they start to mellow after 4 weeks, but I’m not stopping you from using them three months from now. There is no health consequence to storing them longer (you can’t get sick), so you go do your thing and, in 20 months when spring finally gets here, sprinkle them on some strawberries sauteed in a little sugar and dipped in whipped cream.
Nibble: What are health benefits of using spice mixes?
Rosie: I am not a health professional, so I can only speak from personal experience and refer people to books and articles by those duly trained. That said, I think spices are awesome for our health! Whether or not turmeric has antibacterial properties or cinnamon is an anti-inflammatory (look it up!), adding spices to our food helps us eat healthy foods in greater quantity and with more aplomb. A little garam masala tossed on your roasted cauliflower will make you lick the pan. Some ras el hanout stirred into pan-fried chickpeas will have you coming back for more of that fiber-laden deliciousness. Or – ooh this is a good one — an autumn smoothie with pumpkin puree, a few pomegranate seeds, yogurt, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, and a touch of maple syrup is amazing! Which reminds me — spices are delicious! They make us happy, and I certainly don’t need a degree to tell you that being happy is healthy.
Nibble: Can you find ras el hanout or garam masala on any local menus?
Rosie: Any Indian restaurant will likely toss garam masala into many of its dishes. You may not see it listed on the menu, but it is a great excuse to ask a question and maybe get a recipe or even into the kitchen to watch your dinner being made (always ask questions!). Ras el hanout is enjoying 15 minutes of fame right now (which is cool by me), so you might find it creeping into menus. It is awesome in little fried and/or salty appetizery things, so I bet you see it soon on some trendier bar menus. For sure, it pops up in menus influences by Northern African/Turkish cuisines (like Sarma, Sofra) and certainly at Moroccan restaurants like Malden’s Moroccan Hospitality (I haven’t been there, so I can’t confirm, but it looks great! Dinner anyone?).
To sign up for this Spice Mix class, go here. Tickets are $40 (not bad for a class, a meal and spice mixes to go home with!). Class is on Thursday, March 27, 6:30-9pm; it will take place at Kitchen Inc., 201 Somerville Ave. Space is limited.
Class description: Move over Pumpkin Pie Mix. Take a seat Italian Seasoning. In this class Rosie Gill will teach us how to make Ras el Hanout and Garam Masala. Fantastic not only in their traditional applications, these spice mixes take your next pie, platter of roasted veggies, or chicken marinade to a whole new level. We will also explore the health benefits and proper storage of spices. After whipping up the spice mixes, we will use them to make: saag paneer; hara bhara; moroccan carrot salad; cauliflower salad; warm squash, chickpea and pomegranate seeds with tahini sauce. Last but not least we will concoct: a herb cake with ras el hanout, served with spiced whipped cream; and garam masala toasted almonds. After devouring our feast, each participant will go home with two spice blends and a boatload of recipes. *menu may change very slightly if we can get our hands on some early spring vegetables (fingers crossed).