Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Moroccan Chermoula recipe: an incredibly versatile marinade

Chermoula is the emblematic rub/marinade of Moroccan Cuisine. Chermel is the verb referring to rubbing/marinating something with a mix because in common Moroccan, that verb means marinate or/and rub.

In Arabic, chermoula is شرمولة

We have 3 sorts of chermoulas depending on the recipe it is intended for but also depending on families:

  • Green chermoula (without paprika and red elements), 
  • Chermoula with a red tone due to the use of a good amount of sweet paprika powder/paste and harissa (for a hot version),
  • Chermoula with a yellow tone due to turmeric or a sort of food colouring powder used in Morocco, or a mix of both.

I once offered a Moroccan cooking class around chermoula. I remember the group members were spooning a bit of the mix every time they could and I had to stop them, there would have been nothing left for the recipes lined up for the class..That's to say that they loved it so much as it was. 

The other fact we discussed was that even with the same mix of herbs and spices, all the 7 salads we made tasted so different. Chermoula brought so much to each of them without making them anywhere close to each others as far as the taste goes. You would say the vegetables taste different anyway, but the remark was still valid in the case of two salads made with the same vegetables but in different textures and with different time as to when chermoula was introduced and which was was used.

So yes, you can serve it as is next to grilled vegetables or fish or meat, a bit like a chimichurri mix or a sauce vierge.

Basic chermoula includes some specific fresh herbs combined with a few spices and mixed with an acidic ingredient. In its extensive version, it includes preserved lemons as well. The herbs commonly used are fresh coriander (major herb) and parsley, the spices used are paprika (sweet, hot), cumin (major spice), garlic (generous amount), turmeric can also be added. Lemon juice and olive oil are the main liquids in this blend. 

Moroccan vegetable-stuffed chicken, chermoula-marinated then
steamed and semi-roasted

Best chermoula is the one made using a pestle and mortar after chopping all ingredients to release the oils of all these elements. However, for a large batch or if you don't have the magic mortar, a blender will do. You might just need to add some olive oil or tiny bit of water so it does blend.

Cooked potato salad with chermoula

The only mean of measurement to use in a chermoula recipe will be your tongue. Indeed, some like it lemony, some like it hot. However, we tend to like a lemony chermoula if it will be paired with fish, chicken or a specific set of vegetable salads.

Fresh tomatoes with chermoula.

Knowing your chermoula will open the door to a massive list of Moroccan recipes which only rely on this incredibly fresh marinade to impress you and your guests. 

Browse the word "chermoula" in the search box of this blog and see how many recipes you could enjoy making. 

There are so many recipes which call for chermoula without mentioning it, but if you put the ingredients together, it's pretty much what you get.

Makes approx 1 cup of chermoula paste (approx)
Prep: 5 min

  • 3 cups of fresh coriander, chopped 
  • 1 cup of fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 tbsp of coarse salt or to taste
  • 1 tbsp of sweet paprika powder or paste
  • 1/2 tsp of chilli powder 
  • 1 1/2 tsp of ground cumin
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 3 tbsps of olive oil
  • 3 tbsps of white vinegar or lemon juice
  • 3 tbsps of water

Optional ingredients (depending on recipes)
  • 1/2 tsp of ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp of ground ginger
  • For a lemonly chermoula, add 1/2 preserved lemon, seeds off
  • For a yellow chermoula, add 1 tsp of turmeric
  • For a red chermoula, add 2 tablespoons of sweet paprika powder/paste and 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • For a hot chermoula, add more cayenne (soudaniya) and harissa (or a chili paste) to taste

A traditional Moroccan tray of fish and vegetables ready to go to the oven


Blend all ingredients and give a few pulses to turn these ingredients into a thick mix.

Use immediately or store in a jam jar or similar. You could top with olive oil. Keep in the fridge for up to a week..

Moroccan lamb brain cooked in red chermoula
 Here is an example of a yellow toned chermoula.

Moroccan fish tagine with a yellow chermoula
Most of the dishes using a chermoula in their making taste even better with extra lemon juice or preserved lemon added on top or on the side of the dish before serving.

As for the cold dishes such as salads, wait until they cool off (for cooked salads) to add more lemon juice or vinegar and a bit of extra virgin olive oil (I always mention in it my recipes). This little touch brings them to a whole new level.

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