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"Mrouziya is traditionally served during Aid el Kebir, the religious feast that commemorates the sacrifice of Abraham. The word itself is derived from Maurusia, the name the ancient Greeks gave to northwest Africa. The exquisitely seasoned dish, redolent with the exotic ras el hanout spice blend, is based on a centuries-old recipe."'You can't hurry mrouziya,' said my neighborm Naima Lakhmar, as she lit the coals in a canoun, or small charcoal brazier, in Dar Zitoun's atrium early one morning. The rhythmic sound from her heavy brass mortar reverberated through the house as she vigorously pounded spices to make ras el hanout. She slowly added her intoxicating blend to the heavy black pot atop the canoun that held the other ingredients. Exotic aromas drifted through the house over the next few hours, as Naima periodically stirred the contents of the pot until the sauce had turned the color of dark caramel.
Mrouziya (Honey Spiced Lamb)
Preheat the oven to 325F. With your hands, thoroughly coat the meat with ras el hanout. Set the meat in a heavy cast-iron pan or an enameled casserole with a heavy lid. Add the water, the oil, smen, and honey. Cover tightly. Bake until the meat falls off the bones, 3 to 4 hours.
With a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to an ovenproof dish and keep warm. Skim the fat from the sauce. Place the casserole over medium-high heat and add the raisins. Cook, stirring, until the sauce attains the consistency of maple syrup, 10 to 12 minutes. Return the meat to the sauce. Stir to coat and heat through.
Transfer meat to a shallow platter and garnish with the toasted almonds. Serve with extra sauce on the side, and warm bread.
Smen (Aged Butter)
"Smen, an aged butter similar to Asian ghee, is a prized flavoring ingredient in Moroccan dishes. Smen is made from clarified butter, dried herbs, and salt. It is aged in small earthenware pots in a cool, dry place until it acquires an aroma and consistency similar to Roquefort cheese. Berber farmers in southern Morocco bury a tightly sealed pot of smen on the day of a daughter's birth, unearthing it years later to flavor the couscous served on her wedding day. Berber tradition notwithstanding, I suggest you use the smen within six months. A teaspoon or two is usually all that is required to impart the characteristic taste to a dish of couscous or to the sauce of a tagine. You can substitute equal parts butter and olive oil in place of smen in a recipe, if you prefer."
Makes 1-1/2 cups
Ras el hanout (Moroccan spice blend)
"There must be as many recipes for ras el hanout as there are spice vendors in Morocco. The name itself, which translates as "top (or head) of the shop," refers to the best combination of spices the seller can provide. Si Brahim, our spice vendor in Azemmour, incorporates thirty-four spices, dried roots, so-called aphrodisiacs, and other mysterious and unusual items. I prefer to use Naima Lakhmar's more easily prepared, less elaborate recipe. She toasts all her ras el hanout ingredients before grinding. You can usually find blade mace, dried ginger root, and dried turmeric root in Middle Eastern markets."
Makes about 1/4 cup
If using whole spices, put all the ingredients in a nonstick pan over medium-high heat and toast, stirring constantly, until the mixture emits a pleasant aroma, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. (This first step is not necessary if using commercially ground spices.) Using a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder, reduce the ingredients to a fine powder. Sift to remove fibrous elements. Place in a tightly sealed container and store in a cool, dark place, or in the freezer.
*Blade mace, also called mace blades, is the lacy, scarlet aril covering the nutmeg. It turns light brown as it dries. It is better know in its powdered form as ground mace.