Here is what I’ve learned about Moroccan food: there is no such thing as a chermoula recipe. Chermoula is a condiment used on fish, meat, grilled vegetables, etc. (I’m thinking of it as the pesto of North Africa). Now, when I say there’s no such thing as a recipe, I mean *a* recipe. There are recipes for this dish. Many recipes. Many of which bear little to no resemblance to other recipes of the same name. I went with parsley, cilantro, celery leaves, lemon, olive oil, a little garlic, lots of paprika, cumin and pinches of other spices including sumac until it tasted good. Harissa paste would have been an option within the chermoula repertoire. Or preserved lemons. Or dried fruit. Or cloves. And so on. I don’t know if people feel strongly about their style of chermoula the way we might feel strongly about what a “BBQ sauce” is, but presumably many arguments are argued and some people claim fish should never be sauced to begin with.
A few possible recipes, should you wish to try it out:
- From The New York Times
- From Nigel Slater in The Guardian (it’s third down)
- From Marcus Samuelsson and Paula Wolfert
I used mine on a not-remotely-traditional cornbread-breaded, broiled haddock – because I wanted the combination of the tangy with the sweet cornbread. We all survived the lack of authenticity.
My favorite of the Moroccan food style is deep, roasted vegetable spreads (or they would call them salads – but a salad that you spread on top of bread is, in my book, a spread). Here is how I assembled my version of Zaalouk. It is time consuming because it is a pastiche of different recipes. Assemble:
1.) Roasted Eggplant: Pierce 2 medium sized eggplants in multiple places with a fork, place them on a lightly oiled baking tray in a 450-degree oven until they collapse on themselves (20-30 minutes or so). Remove them, slit them, when they are cool enough to handle scoop the flesh into a colander to drain until they’re cool, then sprinkle with salt and set in a bowl.
2.) Oven Roasted Tomatoes: A batch of this Martha Stewart recipe (it uses canned whole tomatoes)
3.) Two medium onions, well caramelized: A primer on caramelizing onions is here.
4.) 1 Medium Zucchini – Sliced thin and cooked in a skillet with olive oil and a generous pinch of salt until it has become soft to the point of disintegrated.
5.) Spices – Try starting with this combination, taken from a Paula Wolfert recipe, and adjust up and down to taste:
3/4 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne (or to taste)
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh cilantro
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
Now mash together everything in a large bowl. Drizzle in a nice dose of high (or at least medium) quality olive oil. Does it look like a good thick spreading consistency to you? If not, pulse it a few times in a food processor until it does. Yeah, the food processor feels like a cheat, but it gets you where you need to go, texture-wise.
Another delicious yet time consuming dish: B’stilla. A chicken pastry that is both savory and heavy on the confectioners sugar. Here’s a recipe plus article from Fine Cooking if you wish to try it (I wrapped it into individual sized pastries, which I recommend only doing if you really, really must).
Not all the recipes in the first week of Moroccan food were quite this time consuming. Here are two that I will keep in my ‘the whole is greater than the sum of the parts’ file:
- Roasted Potatoes: These became on-theme because I added a buttermilk-harissa sauce, but in looking for a guide to the right ratios in the sauce, I discovered this method of roasting potatoes, from Whole Foods. I tried it next to my normal method of potatoes tossed in oil, salt, and vinegar and put in the oven and it really did taste better with only a little more effort (and you need wine, but for home cooking an excuse to open a bottle of wine and only take a smidge for the recipe can’t be bad, right? It was a tad less useful in the non-home kitchen). I ultimately ignored the dressing part of this recipe, so I can’t speak to it, presumably it’s very tasty.
- Angostura Bitters Sugar Cubes: These make champagne into Champagne Cocktails. I went for them because they drink a bunch of these cocktails in Casablanca (the movie) – Lawrence and I re-watched to verify, and they really do spend a lot of time with their Champagnes in that movie, enough to make one suspect it was the dawn of the product placement era. These are so simple and smell so wonderful and frankly taste good in their own right, the recipe is here.