Chermoula is a blend of herbs and spices that is often said to be at the core of Moroccan cuisine. While it was made in Morocco first, it has become popular in North African countries like Libya and Tunisia. Chermoula is growing in popularity elsewhere around the world, including Europe and the US. A big part of its growing adoption in the West has to do with the increased demand of Moroccan tagines. Once relatively unknown outside of North Africa, tagines have become a significant recent trend in the American and European food cultures over the last few years.
Chermoula's flavor profile can be described as mildly spicy, which means that its heat is subtle and inoffensive. Most chermoula blends include warm spices like cumin and coriander, along with heat from fresh chili peppers. Cilantro is also added and gives the mixture an herbal sweetness with mild citrus notes. Other herbs that used in traditional chermoula blends include mint and saffron. A range of other traditional Middle Eastern ingredients may also be used, including preserved lemon, lemon juice, and even tomato. Each of those ingredients can give it fruity citrus notes and acidity. That acidity helps it to pair well with fish and can make it efficient for breaking down the tough muscle fibers in beef and lamb.
Note: While the ingredients above are included in a basic chermoula recipe, it is important to note that, like many traditional spice blends, there is no one standard chermoula recipe that everyone uses. The list of ingredients varies from region to region and from household to household. The herbs and spices used to make chermoula are chosen according to local availability and preference. For example, the traditional Tunisian version may be made with pureed grapes and onions while the Moroccan versions of the dish will usually include the spice blend known as ras el hanout. Ras el hanout translates to "top of the shop" and is supposed to represent the very best spices that a spice merchant has for sale. As such, the spices used to make it are subject to variation. It can be made with a handful of spices or it may contain dozens. Ras el hanout typically includes staple spices like cardamom and cumin but can include more exotic components like rose petals and Spanish fly. In all cases, the ingredients generally are ground or pounded to the consistency of a paste.
How chermoula is used also varies by region as the Tunisian version is served as a part of a cured fish dish that is traditionally prepared during Eid al-Fitr.
Chermoula typically bears a slight resemblance to an Italian pesto or an Argentinian chimichurri sauce because of its consistency and the cilantro component, but it will usually not be as green as either of those blends. The difference in color has to do with the fact that it includes red chiles and various powdered spices. Those other spices can give it a brownish or reddish color.
Uses for Chermoula
The original use for the chermoula spice blend is as a sauce or marinade for cooking fish and other seafood including shellfish. It is the primary tool for seasoning Moroccan fish tagines. Its spicy and herbal notes perfectly complement the mildness of most types of fish. As chermoula has become more widely known in recent years, its range of applications has broadened to include beef and chicken. It is an excellent complement to steaks. There are even vegetable dishes made with chermoula as the primary flavoring ingredient; one example is eggplant with chermoula.
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