Top Chef’s Mysterious Guests

Catherine Barker in National Geographic:

SpicesTwo exotic-sounding ingredients have been making repeat performances on Bravo’s Top Chef this season.

Ras el hanout has shown up in beet salad with goat cheese and in a foie gras mousse with peaches.

According to Larousse Gastronomique, ras el hanout is “a complex mixture of twenty or more ground spices, used mainly in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. The literal meaning is “head” or “top of the shop.” Since the mixture was traditionally made from a market’s superior spices, the name is fitting.

A call to Casablanca Restaurant in Arlington, Virginia, revealed what exactly is in the mix. Chef Nadir Elhajji, who is Moroccan, explained that the combination includes paprika, ginger, black and white pepper, curry, coriander, nutmeg, and cumin. Depending on the country, ras el hanout might also include garlic, rosemary, lavender, or saffron. It’s available in some Middle Eastern stores and online, but chef Elhajji prefers to make his own from his battery of ground spices. He’s not so sure about mixing ras el hanout with beets or peaches but does like it with lamb. He’ll combine four pounds of lamb chops, a sliced onion, and two teaspoons of ras el hanout in an ovenproof pot. Coat the meat, onions, and spice liberally with olive oil and cover the pot tightly. Cook for two to six hours in a 250-degree oven. Or, if you happen to be in Marrakesh, do what the locals do and place your pot in the smoldering fire used to heat the local Turkish bath.

The other unfamiliar guest ingredient is something called yuzu.

More here.  [Thanks to Marilyn Terrell.]