Goats and Soda
8:51 am
Fri August 8, 2014

Chermoula: From North Africa To The White House To Your Table

Originally published on Fri August 8, 2014 11:14 am

If you weren't on the guest list for Tuesday's U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit dinner, no need to feel left out. We've got the inside scoop — and a few recipes — for one of the meal highlights.

The White House served tender slabs of Wagyu beef, with a side of sweet potato puree and braised collard greens. To add a bit of African flair, the chefs rubbed on a marinade native to North Africa: chermoula.

Born in Morocco, chermoula is a blend of spices like coriander and cumin along with fresh chilies, giving it a rich herby and spicy taste. Olive oil turns the combo into a paste.

The blend is the heart of Moroccan food, says Marcus Samuelsson, the renowned Ethiopian-born, Swedish-raised chef who specializes in African cuisine. "It has a hint of floral and it has flavor, but it's not super spicy," he says. "That's why it's not offensive." From its traditional use to flavor grilled fish, chermoula has spread to beef, chicken, even vegetables.

It's also spread beyond its country of origin, used in Tunisia, Algeria, even the south of France (not to mention Washington, D.C.). Each region makes it a bit differently.

"There is no one recipe for charmoula," writes the James Beard award-winning cookbook author Paula Wolfert in The Food of Morocco. [Clearly, there is no one spelling, either, since it's a transliteration of an Arabic word.] "In Marrakech, a cook might add some ginger to the spice mix. In Agadir, creamed onions are often added. In Tetouan, a little hot red pepper oil, and in Tangier, our housekeeper always added a little thyme."

Moroccans often start with a classic spice blend called el ras hanout, or "top of the shop," commonly including cumin, cardamom and coriander. But each spice vendor will put a special spin on the blend. Home cooks add their touches — fresh-cut dill for some, roasted chilies for others, says Samuelsson.

He adds that the popularity of chermoula is illustrative of the pride Morocco takes in its spices.

"Anytime you say chermoula, people think flavorful, and they smile and they want to have it with their meal," he tells Goats and Soda. "They're expecting a spice rub that is delicious."

So what's his recommendation? Rub a generous amount on a chicken, and roast. Cook some rice with two teaspoons of chermoula mixed with oil to go with the chicken. Or if poultry is not your thing, rub the marinade onto a juicy piece of steak and let it sizzle.


Recipe: Chermoula

This recipe is reprinted with permission from Marcus Samuelsson's Soul of a New Cuisine.

Ingredients:

- 8 garlic cloves
- 1/2 cup small parsley sprigs
- 1/3 cup small cilantro sprigs
- Grated zest of 2 lemons
- 4 Teaspoons paprika
- 2 Teaspoons chili powder
- 2 Teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 cup olive oil

Combine the garlic, parsley, cilantro, lemon zest, paprika, chili powder and cumin in a blender and blend on low speed to a coarse puree; don't process until smooth. With the blender running, add the oil in a thin, steady stream and blend until a thick paste forms.

Store in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.


Recipe: Fish Tagine with Creamy Onion Charmoula

This recipe is reprinted with permission from Paula Wolfert's The Food of Morocco.

Ingredients:

- 1 1/2 Teaspoons cumin seeds
- 3 garlic cloves
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- Pinch of cayenne, tumeric and saffron threads
- 1/3 cup cilantro and flat leaf parsley
- 1/3 Extra virgin oil
- 1 medium red onion (coarsely chopped)
- 1 pound 1-inch thick firm textured white fish steaks
- One 2-inch Ceylon cinnamon stick
- 5 small red ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
- 2 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch dice
- 1 pound narrow zucchini, trimmed and cut into 1-inch chunks
- 1 red bell pepper, peeled, cored, seeded, and diced
- Juice of one lemon

Garnish:
- 1/2 preserved lemon, rinsed, pulp removed, and diced
- 12 green ripe olives
- 2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro

  1. For the charmoula, toast cumin seeds by tossing them in a hot dry skillet over medium heat for about 1 minute.
  2. Blend the cumin seeds, garlic and salt to a paste in a large mortar. Moisten the paprika, black pepper, cayenne, turmeric and saffron with 2 tablespoons water. Add the spices, herbs and oil to the garlic mixture and blend until smooth. Add the onion, 3/4 cups of water and blend to a smooth velvety texture.
  3. Wash fish under cold running water. Trim off any skin, cut into small dice, and reserve. Pat dry fish and cut into 1-inch chunks. Place fish, cinnamon and 1/2 cup of charmoula in a bowl. Toss fish, cover and refrigerate 1 to 2 hours.
  4. Meanwhile, arrange tomato slices side by side on sheets of paper towels lightly dusted with salt. Dust tomatoes with salt, cover with more paper towels, and press down to absorb excess moisture. Leave tomatoes to dry out until use.
  5. Arrange diced fish skin, potatoes, zucchini and red pepper in your tagine. Pour over remaining charmoula and slowly bring to a boil. Cover and cook until the vegetables are tender and the sauce is thick, about 45 minutes. Remove and discard cinnamon stick. (You can prepare up to this point 1 to 2 hours in advance. Let stand at room temperature.)
  6. 30 minutes before serving, preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  7. Gently reheat the tagine over low heat. Remove fish, toss with lemon juice. Spread fish and tomatoes on top of the veggies. Transfer to oven and bake, uncovered for 10 minutes.
  8. To serve, decorate tagine with preserved lemon, olives and cilantro. Serve from tagine at your table.


Recipe: Eggplant Smothered With Charmoula

This recipe is reprinted with permission from Paula Wolfert's The Food of Morocco.

This recipe calls for two-step cooking. First you bake the eggplant slices, then fry them in oil. The initial baking will keep eggplant slices from absorbing too much oil during frying.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

- 2 medium eggplants, about 1 1⁄2 pounds
- Coarse salt
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
- 1 Teaspoon sweet paprika
- Pinch hot paprika
- 3⁄4 Teaspoon freshly ground cumin seed, preferably Moroccan
- 3 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
- 3 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
- 3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1⁄2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

  1. Slice eggplant into 3/4-inch thick rounds and sprinkle lightly on both sides with salt. Place in a colander, cover with a paper towels or a cloth, and weigh down the slices with a heavy pot or canned good for 30 minutes, until they exude their bitter juices.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. To make charmoula, whisk together garlic, paprika, cumin, half of the cilantro and parsley, lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, and salt to taste in a small bowl; set aside to mellow.
  3. Pat eggplant slices dry with paper towels and lightly brush each slice with olive oil. Spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake until tender and golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove eggplant from oven and set aside to cool completely.
  4. Heat remaining olive oil in a medium skillet over high heat. Add slices one by one to hot oil and fry until crisp and brown on both sides, about 1 minute per side. Drain on paper towels and transfer eggplant slices to a shallow dish.
  5. Whisk charmoula once more and drizzle over eggplant. Sprinkle remaining cilantro and parsley on top. Let stand 1 hour, then serve at room temperature.
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