Over time, it has become intuitive to pull spices & blends from my pantry; similar to muscle memory, I wonder if there is a word for “taste memory.” While I’ve been cultivating dedicated meal planning over the last few months, I often leave space for flexibility in seasoning.
This week, I took a moment to reflect on some of my most immediate seasoning choices, and realized that one spice-blend I’ve been frequenting is chermoula (pronounced “cher-MOO-lah”). This blend is inspired by a marinade and sauce used in northern African (note that in a previous post Itouched on east African cuisine with piri piri sauce).
Chermoula was one of the first spices I brought home from the shop; I felt immediately drawn to how robust, yet versatile the flavor profile is. Our blend features nineteen spices! You’ll find a bit of heat form the New Mexico Hatch and cayenne pepper; warmth from cinnamon, allspice, and cardamom; and a refreshing zest of lemon, ginger and parsley. One night, while eating grilled chicken and vegetables over couscous, I recall my father asking, “What spice did you use on this?” I responded quickly, “Oh, chermoula.” He quickly made a joke about how I answered so nonchalantly with a seasoning that is in fact, quite obscure. I think more folks should know about chermoula, and decided to seek out its origin story, which has become an essential aspect of these spice excavations.
If you’ve ever had Moroccan cuisine, it’s likely you experienced a version of the chermoula blend. While seeking a history of this cuisine, I began reading “My Moroccan Food,” a wonderful blog written by a Moroccan woman, Nagrisse, who is based in London. She delineates the rich history of how the cuisine began with its first nomadic inhabitants, the Berbers. These folks were responsible for the slow cooking utensil called tagine, as well as the introduction of staple ingredients such as couscous, chickpeas, and beans. In the 7th century, Arabs arrived to Morocco, bringing with them the spices from the East that would become essential to the cuisine. These spices included turmeric, cinnamon, cumin, and paprika and became fundamental to the wonderfully robust blends such as chermoula, and the not-yet-mentioned, ras el hanout.
Even in the name for this blend, we see the Arabic influence. In Arabic, ras el hanout translates to “top of the shop.” The literal translation of ras el hanout from Arabic to English is “head of the shop," implying that this mix of spices is the very best offering in a spice shop. Due to its liberal use in mrouzia, a lamb and honey dish with intense seasoning, ras el hanout is also sometimes called mrouzia spice. No two versions of this spice blend are the same, so if sampling ras el hanout from different sources, you will notice slight flavor variations.
Ras el hanout is traditionally served in pastilla meat pies, tagines, stews. I want to direct you two wonderful recipes for Moroccan-inspired dishes. Moroccan Lamb with Raisins and Pine Nuts and Chickpea and Couscous Falafel.
As you can see, these Moroccan blends can offer an adventure into an entire cuisine, while they also lend themselves to dressing up some your stand-by recipes. I began combining my chermoula with olive oil, as a rub for grilling chicken. I shred the chicken, which is excellent for tacos or even summer pasta dishes. You can also combine the chermoula with yogurt for a refreshing summer marinade. Or, perhaps you’ve been craving a new cooking method and decide to deep dive into tagines, for which our ras el hanout would be a staple. If you would like to round out your Moroccan culinary adventure try a wonderful cup of traditional Moroccan Mint Tea with your meal.
I hope you glean some new inspirations, and find some joyful moments in your cooking this week!
Tasting the world one dish at a time,