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Chermoula or charmoula (شرمولة) is the emblematic marinade of Maghreb cuisine. The name comes from the Arabic verb chermel in reference to rubbing or marinating something with a spice mix. In Morocco, the best and most authentic chermoula is one made with fresh herbs and garlic. Although dry rubs bearing the name “chermoula” are sold in supermarkets, they are miles away from the real deal.
There are many recipes in Moroccan cuisine which use chermoula as a marinade, sauce or condiment; a classic Moroccan Fish Tagine with Vegetables and Fried Sardines Stuffed with Chermoula are two examples. However, there are other recipes which use chermoula but you may not be aware of it. That’s because the chermoula ingredients are often not labeled as such and instead are listed alongside all other ingredients with no special instruction for premixing. Once you realize this and are able to recognize the core group of ingredients used in chermoula, as well as the characteristics of a dish which incorporates it, you’ll see the benefit of making a large batch ahead of time and using it when needed to lift your dishes.
Types of Moroccan Chermoula Mixes
Chermoula can come in different hues and tones, depending on its intended use and also depending on family preferences. We can categorize chermoula as follows:
- Green (without paprika and red elements);
- With a red tone, due to sweet paprika (powder or paste) and sometimes harissa (for a hot version);
- With a yellow tone, due to turmeric and/or a food coloring powder used in Morocco.
Basic chermoula usually combines fresh herbs, several spices, and an acidic ingredient. In its extended version it will include preserved lemons as well. The herbs commonly used are fresh coriander (cilantro) and parsley. The ratio of cilantro to parsley varies anywhere from 4:1 to 4:3 depending on the families and the regions. Some may also go for coriander only while others will prefer parsley only. As for the spices, sweet paprika, cumin, garlic, and sometimes turmeric represent the ingredients of choice. Lemon juice or vinegar and olive oil are the main liquids in this blend.
How to Use Chermoula
Chermoula is used as a marinade, a seasoning rub but also as a sauce or condiment served on the side. With that in mind, you can use it to:
- marinate raw meat, fish, poultry or vegetables;
- baste ingredients as they cook;
- lift a sauce in a stew or tagine by adding it to simmering cooking liquids;
- serve alongside grilled vegetables or fish or meat, a bit like a chimichurri or a sauce vierge.
A single batch of chermoula can be used to flavor separate cooked salads with very different results. So, as example, you might have carrots, eggplant (aubergine), and zucchini (courgettes) in chermoula, all served as separate starters at the same meal. Potatoes, too, can get the chermoula treatment. Despite featuring the same mix of herbs and spices, they will taste quite different from each other. It’s true that the vegetables themselves taste different anyway, but adding the same mix of chermoula to each one of them does not necessarily give them the same taste in the end. Also, the time in which chermoula is added is crucial to the final taste the dish will have.
Adapt Chermoula to Your Taste
The best chermoula is made using a pestle and mortar after first chopping all ingredients to release their oils. However, for a large batch or if you don’t have the magic mortar, a blender or food processor will do. In that case, you might need to add some olive oil or tiny bit of water to help with blending.
Once blended, the only way to determine if the chermoula’s seasoning needs adjustment will be to use your tongue. Indeed, some like it lemony, some like it hot. Or, we may prefer it different ways with different dishes. For instance, we tend to like a lemony chermoula if it will be paired with fish, chicken or a specific set of vegetable salads.
You will also want to make adjustments to the thickness of chermoula. It can be blended into a thick, relatively dry paste which can be used in the same manner as a spice rub. If it’s to be used as a marinade, the chermoula can be thinned considerably with water or olive oil. An in between consistency would be suitable as a condiment or basting sauce.
Knowing how you like your chermoula will open the door to a massive list of Moroccan recipes which rely on this incredible marinade. Far from boring and definitely adaptable, chermoula will become your go-to-condiment and marinade for dishes which impress family and guests.
Chermoula Marinade Recipe - Moroccan Version
- 3 cups fresh coriander (cilantro), roughly chopped,
- 1 cup fresh flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped, leaves only
- 6 to 8 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp ground cumin
- 1 tbsp sweet paprika, powder or paste
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp water optional not needed if using a pestle and mortar
Optional ingredients depending on recipes
- Roughly chop the herbs and crush the garlic, then follow one of the methods below.
Using a Food Processor
- Place the herbs and the rest of the ingredients in the blend. Give a few pulses until you are satisfied with the texture. To help with blending, you can thin the mixture with a few tablespoons of olive oil, water or a mix of the two.
Using a Mortar and Pestle (Mehraz)
- Start by pounding garlic and salt. Add the chopped herbs and spices in batches and pound until you are happy with the texture. Note: It is important to chop the herbs properly before crushing them with the pestle, otherwise you will end up with a stringy chermoula.
- Use immediately or store in a jam jar or similar sealed container. If the paste is quite thick, you could top it off with olive oil. Keep in the fridge for up to a week.
- Special note about lemon juice: For cold dishes such as salads, wait until cooked vegetables have cooled before adding more lemon juice or vinegar and a bit of extra virgin olive oil. This little touch brings them to a whole new level.
- Some recipes will require a chermoula without parsley and others will require a chermoula without lemon or vinegar (such as in the Moroccan kefta recipe).
- For a hot chermoula, add more cayenne (soudaniya) and harissa (or a chili paste) to taste.
- A Northern variation of chermoula includes thyme and black pepper and a good portion of flat leaf parsley.
- You could make a red chermoula by adding a roasted and peeled red pepper into the blend.