I have been avoiding writing the recipe for this traditionally Moroccan marinade for weeks on end, or so it seems. Publishing what should be a straightforward short story is long overdue. In fact — while I have been contemplating how to narrate the preparation of a simple mixture of fresh herbs stirred through warm spices — summer has officially slipped into autumn. It should be simple and yet it has turned out to be complicated. It seems that the only way to resolve this impasse is to explain my predicament.
After that, I think I can get back to the subject of cooking.
The grassy green smell of parsley and coriander spark the memory of a flawless summer day in July spent with my very best friend Lindsey. We gathered fresh herbs in the most beautiful vegetable garden I have yet to visit. We put together bunches of the most pungent garlic I can recall having had the opportunity to work with on our make-shift kitchen table. (I can almost feel the stickiness of the peeled garlic cloves as I write). And while talking effortlessly through the hours of the early morning, we made a few big Mason jars of two of my favorite sauces, as part of a garden party for the local community.
A few hours later we were tossing our concoction of flavors through freshly cut kohlrabi and stuffing rainbow chard leaves with brown rice drizzled with our mixture of herbs. We passed around our creations, inspired by a warm summer day and a garden full of organically grown vegetables. Needless to say — Lindsey and I were in pig heaven.
Time passed without a trace of thought, as we prepared bowl after bowl of deliciously colorful raw food. The day was filled with a clatter of conversation and recipe ideas scribbled on scraps of paper by visitors to the garden. Our efforts were put to good use and we went back to Lindsey’s house a number of hours later for a well-deserved late breakfast.
Since that day, the sight of bunches of parsley and coriander keep reminding me that I cannot bike over to the community garden or have an uninterrupted conversation with Lindsey while sitting on her lakeside terrace. We both live in different parts of the world and sometimes this makes me sad. To make a long story short, this is why I have somehow avoided facing the simple reality that some memories will always be associated with a particular place in time. This is what makes life and food and all things involving both so very beautiful.
And now — as promised — I will get back to the subject of cooking.
- 2 cloves of fresh garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon of Celtic sea salt
- 1 teaspoon of sweet paprika
- 1 teaspoon of finely ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon of smoked paprika . or piment d’Espelette
- 1/2 teaspoon of coriander seeds
- one organic lemon
- a half a bunch of fresh cilantro
- one bunch of flat leaf parsley
- 100-150 ml extra virgin olive oil
The key to making this combination of flavors into something irresistible is to be found in the mixing method. Use a pestle and mortar if at all possible. Otherwise, use a large wooden chopping board to make my favorite chermoula.
Peel the garlic. Scrub the lemon and grate the bright yellow zest with a citrus peeler. Squeeze the lemon juice and set it aside. Wash and dry the flat leaf parsley and herbs. Chop both the stems and their leaves with a sharp knife, leaving the leaves coarser than the stems. Grind the garlic and lemon peel with the sea salt into a paste with the pestle and mortar. Drizzle half the lemon juice and half the olive oil into the pestle and mortar and stir it into the garlic paste until smooth and assimilated. The ingredients will look much like a thick salad dressing at this point.
Add the paprika and cumin to the olive oil and stir until there are no lumps. Throw in half the flat-leaf parsley coriander and grind them into a fine green paste, adding olive oil if needed. Transfer the herbal-oil mixture into a mixing bowl or a Mason jar. Add the remaining chopped herbs, as well as the coriander seeds (which I like to keep whole). Taste the chermoula for the right balance between tart, spicy and savory. Add a pinch of spicy red peppers if you like. Finish the chermoula by adding extra lemon juice, olive oil, sea salt or garlic. My personal favorite is tart with an accent on lemon mixed with garlic, warmed by the flavor of cumin.
This combination of ingredients is traditionally used as a marinade for fish or poultry. I like to toss it through raw and grilled vegetables. Set it in a glass jar at the dinner table to slather on anything from roasted beets to the last of late summer garden tomatoes. Spread it on homemade bread or use it as a topping to a perfectly poached egg.
Cumin and fresh coriander are flavors that characterize not only the Moroccan but also the Mexican and Indian kitchens. Just how these cultures and culinary traditions are related to each other are subjects of many of a conversation between Lindsey and I.
Food connects us all and weaves the tapestry of the wonders that is life.
So mix and stir, live and learn.
This summer I had the honor of preparing a summer garden tasting at the Fremont Township Community Garden with Lindsey Shifley. Read more about both in the links I have provided. In the meantime — these photos — and my multiple trials of repeating the flavors of the chermoula we made together this summer are for you Lindsey 🙂