Morocco , the culinary star of North Africa, is the doorway between Europe and Africa . Much imperial and trade influence has been filtered through her and blended into her culture. Unlike the herb-based cooking across the sea to the north, Moroccan cooking is characterized by rich spices. Cumin, coriander, saffron, chiles, dried ginger, cinnamon, and paprika are on the cook's shelf, and in her mortar.
Harissa, a paste of garlic, chiles, olive oil, and salt, makes for firey dishes that stand out among the milder foods that are more the Mediterranean norm. Ras el hanout (which means head of the shop) names a dried spice mixture that combines anywhere from 10 to 100 spices. Each vendor has his own recipe (hence the name), and no two are exactly the same.