Photo: Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Ginny Branch Stelling

Don't be intimidated by the unknown. Here's all you need to know.

June 16, 2017

The Maghreb region—countries in northwestern Africa including Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya—has cuisine as diverse and vibrant as its regional culture and influences. If you’re looking to try your hand at North African cooking, make sure to stock up on these distinctive spice blends and basics from your international grocery store or well-stocked supermarket.

Salt-preserved lemon

A staple of North African cuisine, use salt-preserved Meyer lemons to brighten up warm, hearty tagines, and add complex sweet-and-savory citrus flavor to sauces and stews.

Photo: Erin Kunkel

This special ingredient is perfect for our Bulgur Salad with Figs and Preserved Lemon recipe. 

Harissa

A hot chili pepper paste with roasted red peppers, garlic, caraway seeds, and cumin, Harissa paste is widely used in Tunisian and Libyan cuisine. Use it to liven up roasted veggies, or add to your shakshouka brunch for a warm, peppery aroma.

Photo: Christopher Testani

Try it out in our Harissa Bloody Marys or Eggs in Purgatory recipe.

Photo: Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Ginny Branch Stelling

Ras El Hanout

This Moroccan spice blend has any many local variances – rarely will it taste exactly the same from purchase to purchase. The number of spices in each mix can vary from 10 to 100, which is why experienced cooks prefer to blend their own to control flavor and heat. Some traditional ingredients include nutmeg, ginger, paprika, cardamom, allspice, and cloves. Use it to make plain couscous more enticing, to spice pilaf dishes, and to add new flavor to meat recipes such as kefta.

Give it a try with our Moroccan Red Gazpacho.

Tabil

A Tunisian and Algerian spice blend, Tabil has a much simpler flavor and less local variance than Ras El Hanout. Traditionally made by mixing caraway, chili, and coriander, some blends also include garlic or cumin. Use as a meat rub or to add to grilled vegetables for heat and distinctive coriander flavor.

Photo: Caitlin Bensel

This spice might be fun to try in our Grilled Corn and Bell Pepper Salad.

Couscous

In Maghrebi food, couscous in an everyday meal essential. Simple to prepare, this crushed wheat semolina can be prepared as a savory main dish, a flavorful side dish, or even sweetened for dessert. Use it as a blank canvas to try a wide range of flavor and spice profiles, and add vegetables and meat to make it a complete meal.

Featured in our Lemony Roasted Salmon with White Wine Couscous.

Dukkah

Although the Maghreb region typically doesn’t include Egypt, this distinctive spice and nut blend is worth keeping in your pantry to dunk flatbread into, or to eat with fresh vegetables. Sesame seeds, coriander, hazelnuts, fennel seeds –even shredded coconut is sometimes added to this chunky, nutty blend.

Photo: Greg Dupree

Enjoy it with a cauliflower dish like this Curried Cauliflower with Yogurt Salad

Berbere

Another blend not strictly from the Maghreb region, Berbere is an Ethiopian and Eritrean spice mixture of garlic, ginger, basil, ajowan, fenugreek, ginger, and other regional variances. Used to season a variety of vegetable and meat stews, or even throw a dash onto fresh fruit for flavor distinctive of the horn of Africa.

Photo: Iain Bagwell

Give it a try with our Whole Stuffed Roasted Pumpkin recipe.