Carrot, Apple, and Honey Soup For The New Year

Ras el Hanout, the spice to top all spices, is the perfect blend of flavors for a sweet Rosh Hashanah.

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Ras el Hanout is not new – but the kosher versions are. A spice blend that is one of the culinary treasures of North Africa, its very name invites you to try it -- translated from Arabic, the words literally mean “top of the shelf.”

Spice merchants create and mix their own blends, so no one Ras el Hanout is the same. But all of them have a robust, complex flavor and a fascinating russet-colored glow, like a pumpkin ready for plucking. Its fragrance is warm, spicy, subtle and mysterious.

Until recently, if you wanted to use this magical stuff in a recipe, you would have to put on your spice merchant hat and create your own mixture. It’s not that difficult, really: basic versions combine cumin, turmeric, cayenne, ground ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves. Some add cardamom or dried rose buds, lavender or fenugreek. Some are more vigorously hot with chili pepper. I included a recipe for my favorite homemade version in my book, Hip Kosher.

But we don’t all have time, patience or a coffee grinder dedicated to spices, so it’s fortunate that Ras el Hanout has become so popular in recent years there are several mixtures for sale, including kosher choices. I’ve used the one from Angelina’s Gourmet, hekshered by KOF-K, and it is warm, nicely sweet, on the “cumin-y” side and moderately spicy-hot. Another kosher brand, (Teeny Tiny Spice Co. of Vermont; EarthKosher) is sweeter, with less heat.

The simplest recipe? Rub chicken with olive oil; sprinkle with Ras el Hanout. Roast it. This is my go-to dinner when I am too busy to fuss. Add a few carrots and parsnips to the pan and my meal is almost complete.

But now I’m thinking about my Rosh Hashanah dinners too. One night I plan to serve roasted turkey sprinkled with Ras el Hanout and basted with mango juice.

Ras el Hanout will also be the “secret” ingredient in the soup I serve as a first course at our second Rosh Hashanah dinner. Carrots are a tradition on Rosh Hashanah and I always serve carrot soup of one kind or another. Our most recent favorite is a version that includes two other traditional holiday foods, apples and honey. Ras el Hanout brings it all together for a warm, gently spicy dish that whets the appetite for the rest of the festive holiday meal.

Ronnie Fein is a cookbook author and cooking teacher in Stamford. Her latest book is Hip Kosher. Visit her food blog, Kitchen Vignettes, at www.ronniefein.com and follow on Twitter at @RonnieVFein.

Rosh Hashanah Carrot, Apple and Honey Soup

Ingredients: 
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large apple, peeled, cored and chopped
2 medium cloves garlic, chopped
1-1/2 lbscarrots, peeled and sliced
4 cups vegetable stock
4 whole cloves
2 tsp Ras el Hanout
1/4 tsp hot sauce (such as Tabasco), optional
Salt to taste
1 tbsp honey
1 cup coconut milk
Recipe Steps: 
Heat the vegetable oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and apple and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook briefly. Add the carrots, stock, cloves, Ras el Hanout, hot sauce, if used, and salt to taste.
Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover the pan and cook for 25 minutes or until the carrots are soft. Remove the cloves. Puree the soup with an immersion blender (or use a standing blender or food processor). Return the soup to the pan.
Whisk in the coconut milk. Bring the soup to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes. Makes 6 servings.