Moroccan Ingredients, Techniques and Essential Recipes

If you want to cook great Moroccan food, it’s essential to have the essential ingredients used in the cooking process. Leave a crucial aromatic out of a certain dish and you will end up with a totally different flavour. Use normal lemons instead of preserved ones and you will loose the pickled taste and the silken texture.

Thankfully, most of the basic ingredients used in Moroccan cooking are simple enough and readily available. This section presents you with these essential ingredients as well as some recipes thrown in for basic components – such as preserved lemons, Harissa sauce andras el hanout.

Moroccan Spices

Spices are an integral part of the Moroccan kitchen. There are the essential spices – cumin, saffron, paprika, turmeric, black pepper, cayenne pepper, ginger, aniseed and sesame seeds – used frequently and the secondary flavourings – cloves, allspice, coriander seeds, fenugreek and caraway seeds – used less frequently.

Ras el Hanout

Ras el Hanout is a finely balanced mixture of different ground spices, as few as ten or as many as twenty six, that goes well with Moroccan game dishes, lamb, tagine and various rice and couscous stuffings. You can make your very own ras el hanout to have readily available when the recipe calls for it.

Moroccan Herbs

Just like spices, herbs are a distinctive element of Moroccan cuisine used for the enrichment of food flavour and taste. The most important herbs commonly used are: onions, garlic, basil, parsley, green coriander, marjoram, mint, grey verbena and za’atar.

Fragrant Waters

Moroccans use rosewater and orange-flower water to flavour beverages, sweets, certain tagines and salads. Both are sold in Middle Eastern markets and large supermarkets.

Harissa Sauce

Harissa sauce is a fiery, chilli-based Tunisian sauce, also popular in Morocco as a dip for salads, couscous and brochettes. You can buy Harissa sauce in tinned or tube form in the specialty food stores or make your own by following our recipe for Harissa sauce.

Preserved Lemons

Preserved lemons are the quintessential condiment of Moroccan cooking, used to flavour a variety of dishes – from lamb and vegetable tagines to salads and savoury pastries. Follow our simple recipe to make your very own preserved lemons to use for your Moroccan cooking.


Olive is an essential ingredient in Moroccan cooking. Three types of olives are used: unripened green, mainly for salads, midway-ripe purple olives, used in chicken, lamb and fish tagines, and salt-cured black olives used in Moroccan salads. All of these olives are readily available in supermarkets and specialty food stores.

Olive Oil

Olive oil is an essential ingredient in Moroccan cooking. It is used in raw or cooked salads, couscous and tagines. For the recipes featured, we recommend using extra virgin olive oil for salads and the standard olive oil for cooking. Vegetable oils are usually used for frying.


Smen is an aged butter-based cooking oil commonly used in Moroccan cooking. The distinctive, almost cheesy flavour and its deep, pungent aroma is used to flavour couscous, soups, tagines and kdaras. Follow our simple recipe to make your very own smen to use in your Moroccan cooking.