Thursday, 23 July 2015

Tasting Jerusalem #18 – Ras El Hanout

Watercress and Chickpea Soup with Rose Water and Ras El Hanout
Dee – The recipe showcasing January 2014‘s featured ingredient, Ras El Hanout, was chosen for me as it was the only one to feature it.  It also happened to be another soup, making this the third in a row.  The Watercress and Chickpea Soup with Rose Water and Ras El Hanout on page 132 sounded like a real challenge to the palate, and I don’t mind admitting that both Jay and me were nervous about trying it out.  It was the inclusion of rose water that did it.  How could this work in a green soup?  To be fair, the commentary accompanying the recipe did say that it could be omitted but in the end our curiosity got the better of us and we decided to include it.
Ras El Hanout, the blend of sweet and savoury spices, originated in Morocco and translates as ‘Chief of the Shop’ or ‘Shopkeeper’s Choice’ and as with most spice blends, has almost limitless variations.  The version I used contained dried rose petals, black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, nigella seeds, cayenne pepper, allspice, lavender, mace, nutmeg and cloves.  The spice blend found its way to Jerusalem via Jews from North Africa, and recipes may also have been passed down through families who lived in the city’s old Moroccan Quarter.
This recipe was very simple to prepare; Perhaps the simplest of the three soups, but was filled with very interesting flavours.
The Ras El Hanout was used in the first stage of the recipe, where it was included in a coating for the carrots and chickpeas which were to form a garnish for the finished soup, but Jay commented that these would also make a nice snack on their own
The main body of the soup was formed by watercress, spinach, onion, ginger, stock and more chickpeas.  These ingredients were all stirred together until the leaves had wilted, and then blitzed to form a beautiful rich green coloured soup.  The rose water was then added at the last minute before the garnish was added.  Yoghurt was listed as an optional extra but we were happy with the soup as it was.
As far as taste was concerned, our fears about the rose water proved to be unfounded.  It was certainly in evidence but didn’t swamp the other flavours, and was complimented by the sweeter spices in the Ras El hanout.  This sweetness was balanced out by the peppery taste of the watercress.  The chickpeas served to temper the predominant tastes while also thickening the soup a little.
Of the three soups we’ve made recently, the Burnt Aubergine and Maftoul soup in part #16 had a home cooked feel, while the Pistachio soup in part #17 was a luxurious, ‘restauranty’ dish.  This one I think was somewhere between the two.  It was a soup made from chickpeas, watercress and spinach, all inexpensive ingredients, but was then embellished with exotic rose water and a complex spice blend.
I liked it more than Jay did.  The Ras El Hanout certainly made its presence felt, and I’m glad that we tried it with the rose water.  As with the Pistachio soup, this would make a nice starter to a North African themed meal.  Perhaps with the tomato and onion couscous on page 129 to follow (click here for further details), and the clementine and almond syrup cake on page 294 to finish.
This is the second time I’ve devised menus now.  Maybe I should keep a list of them somewhere.

“Tasting Jerusalem is a virtual cooking community exploring the vibrant flavors and cuisine of the Middle East through the lens of Jerusalem by Ottolenghi and Tamimi published by Ebury Press. You can follow along and cook with us by subscribing to  following the hashtag #TastingJrslm on Twitter and Instagram, liking our Facebook Page or joining our Google+ Community and finally checking out all of our groups’ dishes on Pinterest

(Please note: I have listed the UK publisher and have linked to the UK Amazon site.  The US details are provided on the web site)


  1. Another great description - glad you tried the rose water. You are right to have fear because just a little bit too much and you think you are drinking soap but in just the right amount, it is a beguiling exotic flavor. Another superior effort!

    1. Many thanks for the comment. Glad you liked the description. I fully agree about careful use of rose water.