Moroccan Chermoula Is the Green Sauce That You'll Want to Add to Everything-Here's How to Make It
In this installment of our series on foods of the African diaspora, Jessica B. Harris offers her version of Morocco’s favorite accompaniment for grilled fish.
Pictured recipe: Moroccan Chermoula
When most people think of Moroccan food, their minds go to rich stews atop a mound of couscous or fragrant prune- and apricot-flavored tagines. However, in places on the Atlantic coast and in Mediterranean-facing cities, fish is often at the top of the menu.
The cooked-to-order offerings on the oilcloth-covered plank tables that are found in the fish market of the blue-and-white town of Essaouira tend toward the truly rustic with fresh from the sea delicious: grilled sardines, snapper, shrimp, calamari and more. In Casablanca, the Port de Pêche restaurant and others that are in the vicinity of the city's fishing port have more traditional offerings like a sole meunière that speaks to Morocco's French colonial heritage and gambas a la plancha, grilled shrimp that tell of the city's proximity to Spain. At both places, the sea breezes bring thoughts of adventures and of Morocco's connections to trade routes to the north, south and west that are as ancient as the Mediterranean world. Also at both places, the condiment of choice is a savory slurry of herbs and spices known as chermoula or charmoula that is Morocco's entrant in the green condiment sweepstakes.
While Argentina's chimichurri and Italy's pesto or salsa verde may be familiar herbal green additions to home cooks, Barbados' Bajan seasoning and Morocco's chermoula are offerings from Africa and its diaspora that may be less well-known to many home cooks in the United States. Chermoula is the green thing that adds zing to Morocco's seafood dishes and other dishes as well. Prepared from cilantro, parsley, garlic, cumin, pepper and lemon juice, it may have additions ranging from coriander to smoked paprika. And, there are several variations including a red version with tomato paste and harissa.
My favorite chermoula is the traditional green one, and I love it as an accompaniment to grilled fish or grilled chicken. It's also great drizzled over grilled or roasted vegetables like cauliflower, or swirled into a homemade vinaigrette for extra flavor. I've found out that it will keep for a week or longer in the fridge (especially if topped with a slick of olive oil). And it is a great way to use up the leftovers from those bunches of cilantro and parsley that are always turning to mush in the bottom of my vegetable drawer. While it is certainly one of my favorite go-to summer condiments, I really do find that I use it all year round.
This essay is part of the series "Diaspora Dining: Foods of the African Diaspora." In this monthly column with essays and recipes by Jessica B. Harris, Ph.D., we explore the rich culinary traditions of the African diaspora. Harris is a culinary historian and the author of 13 books related to the African diaspora, including Vintage Postcards from the African World (University Press of Mississippi), My Soul Looks Back (Scribner) and High on the Hog (Bloomsbury USA), on which the Netflix documentary series High on the Hog is based. She is the 2020 recipient of the James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award. For more from Harris on EatingWell, see Migration Meals: How African American Food Transformed the Taste of America and her Juneteenth Celebration Menu. Follow her on Instagram @drjessicabharris.