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Cooking

Recipes for Moroccan charmoula

This sauce and marinade brings North African depth and spice to seafood or vegetables on the grill or in the oven.

Charmoula sauce is served here with marinated and grilled shrimp, zucchini, and spring onions.
Photograph by Jim Scherer / Styling by Catrine Kelty
Charmoula sauce is served here with marinated and grilled shrimp, zucchini, and spring onions.

Along Morocco’s long coastline seafood is a staple, and before cooking, it’s often marinated in another Moroccan staple, charmoula, sometimes spelled “chermoula,” an aromatic paprika-, cilantro-, and garlic-spiked sauce. Charmoula formulas differ from cook to cook — I like mine made with fresh (rather than dried) chilies and fresh (rather than preserved) lemon, and I add shallots. Those flavors shine when charmoula is used not just as a marinade, but as a dressing for simply grilled veggies like spring onions, fennel, portobello mushrooms, summer squash, or eggplant. It’s also terrific over grilled chicken or lamb, grilled or baked sweet potatoes, and as a dipping sauce for artichokes. I’ve even drizzled it over sliced tomatoes and mozzarella, like a caprese salad by way of Morocco.

CHARMOULA

Makes 1 cup

1/3 cup chopped cilantro

¼ cup chopped parsley

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1 large shallot, chopped

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1 mild red chili, such as Fresno, Holland, or cherry pepper, seeded and chopped

4 garlic cloves, minced

1½ teaspoons sweet paprika

¾ teaspoon ground cumin

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½ teaspoon ground coriander

Salt and pepper

2½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

In a mini chopper or food processor, process the cilantro, parsley, shallot, chili, garlic, paprika, cumin, coriander, ¾ teaspoon each salt and pepper, lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons water until chopped, about 45 seconds. With the motor running, add the oil in a slow stream; continue to process until the puree is smooth, at least 1 minute, stopping to scrape the bowl as necessary. Use as a sauce or marinade, or refrigerate, covered, for up to 1 week.

VARIATIONS

> Smoky Charmoula

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Follow Charmoula recipe, reducing cilantro to 2 tablespoons, increasing parsley to ½ cup, and substituting smoked (sweet or bittersweet) paprika for sweet.

> Charmoula With Preserved Lemon

Makes about 1¼ cups

Follow Charmoula recipe, reducing cilantro to 2 tablespoons and cumin to ¼ teaspoon, increasing the parsley to ½ cup and the coriander to 1 teaspoon, and adding 3 tablespoons chopped preserved lemon rind, or more to taste.

Photograph by Jim Scherer / Styling by Catrine Kelty
TIP: In charmoula, I prefer the slightly sweeter flavor of relatively mild red chili peppers such as (from left) cherry peppers, Holland peppers, and, especially, Fresno peppers.

FISH AND VEGETABLE TAGINE WITH CHARMOULA

Serves at least 6

Serve this dish with couscous, rice, or baguettes.

2¼ pounds skinned meaty white fish fillets (such as sea bass, snapper, halibut, or monkfish), cut into 2-inch chunks

1 cup charmoula

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 very large onion, cut into ½-inch-thick slices

Salt and pepper

1 medium-large sweet potato, cut into 1-inch chunks

1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes

1 large red bell pepper, cut into ½-inch-thick strips

2 medium-small zucchini, cut into 1-inch-thick slices

1 small lemon, thinly sliced

½ cup pitted green olives, quartered

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

With the rack in the middle position, heat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, gently toss the fish with ½ cup charmoula; cover and refrigerate until needed.

Smear a wide 2½- to 3-quart baking dish with oil, shingle in the onion slices, and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Scatter the sweet potato and then the tomatoes over the onion, and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Cover with foil and bake until the sweet potato chunks are barely tender when poked with a knife, about 30 minutes. Remove the foil, spread the bell pepper and zucchini in the dish, sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper, and pour the remaining charmoula evenly over the vegetables. Replace the foil and bake until the zucchini is barely tender, about 15 minutes longer. Remove the foil, spread the fish with its marinade over the vegetables, and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Spread the lemon slices and olives over the fish, and bake, uncovered, until fish is firm and opaque in the center, 15 to 30 minutes longer. Sprinkle with the cilantro and serve.

WHITE BEANS WITH GRILLED SARDINES AND CHARMOULA

Makes about 4 cups

If fresh sardines seem like too much effort, you can substitute 2 drained 4.5-ounce cans of sardines (or two 5-ounce cans of solid tuna), mixing them into the beans with the charmoula. Quartered grape tomatoes make a great addition, too.

½cup finely chopped red onion

2 pounds fresh sardines

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

2 19-ounce cans navy or cannellini beans, drained

2 large ribs celery, finely chopped

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

¾ cup charmoula, or more, to taste

1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley

In a medium bowl, cover the chopped onion with cold water. Soak for 15 minutes, then drain, blot dry with paper towels, and set aside.

Meanwhile, rinse the sardines under cold water, gently rubbing off any scales. Working one at a time, cut off the head just behind the gills, slit the belly, and gut. Spreading the fish open, place it skin side up on the work surface and gently press to flatten; turn the fish over, grasp the backbone at the head end, and pull out. Repeat to butterfly the remaining sardines, then rinse and blot dry. Brush the sardines’ skin with oil and sprinkle lightly all over with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, prepare a hot fire in a charcoal grill or preheat a gas grill on high for 15 minutes. (If using gas, leave the burners on high.) Clean and oil the grate and grill the sardines skin side down until the flesh is firm and opaque, about 5 minutes, and set aside.

In a large nonreactive bowl, stir the beans, onion, celery, lemon juice, and ¾ teaspoon salt to combine. Add a generous ½ cup charmoula and most of the parsley and stir to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt or lemon juice if necessary. Transfer the bean mixture to a serving platter or bowl, arrange the grilled sardines over the beans, drizzle with the remaining charmoula, sprinkle with the remaining parsley, and serve.

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