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.




Ingredients
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
  • 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

Preparation

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.



Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Quick, easy and hassle-free rough puff pastry

Puff pastry is truly a worldwide recipe. Many countries have an array of pastries based on it. Many countries have a form or another of laminated dough (our Msemmens or old-style laminated sweet bread?).


The Arabs and Andalusians have been laminating doughs with oil or any fat as far as the 10th century and even before..So that's not totally a new thing.

I love pastries made with puff pastry but I really can't buy any which is not made of butter. I'd rather skip it.

This puff pastry recipe is really for those who dread the idea of making one at home, but even for those who are in a hurry and don't want to start the long process of laminating, cooling, starting over..

Actually, this easy puff pastry will take you less time to make it than to go and buy it! Its texture is about 70% of the classic version in term of puffing but the taste is all the same..Again, this is due to the use of butter which should be no less than 82 % fat (basic butters in UK and Germany have that ratio).

Yes you can buy puff pastry from a shop, but it happens that most of them are using anything except butter or a tiny bit of it, unless you really buy a 100% all butter puff pastry (in this case, you are lucky).


The taste of an all butter puff pastry is far superior than any other non-butter version. It's so good beyond description. Of course, it's to do with butter.



All what I'm asking you to do here is to put all the ingredients in the fridge then put them in a food processor with a blade. Give a few pulses then laminate 4 times without transiting by the fridge (hence the quick description) and you're done!!!

For a full classic puff pastry, see my post here (in French, with pictures).

I suggest you read the notes before using the dough.




Ingredients
For approx 700g of puff pastry
Prep:10 min - Store unbaked


  • 250 g of all purpose flour, chilled
  • 270 g butter at least 82% fat, cut into small cubes and chilled
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 120 g of water, very cold
For puff pastry with savoury notes
  • 1 tbsp of Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp of crushed black pepper



Preparation


In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade, put flour followed by salt and butter. Give it a few pulses until you see some uneven crumbs forming. You will still see bits of butter in the mix. That's fine. You could use a bowl and a fork to do the same.

Next, pour ice-cold water to bring the mix to a dough texture. Again, give just a few pulses. Do not overwork the dough.

Form a rough ball and then flatten it.

Flour a clean work top and roll the dough to a rectangle. Sprinkle flour when needed to prevent it from sticking. I prefer to roll the dough between 2 cuts of baking paper so I don't have to add a lot of flour to the dough.

Remove excess flour with a pastry brush. Fold the dough into 3.

Next, give a quarter turn to the dough in front of you and roll it again to a rectangle. Again, brush any excess of flour and fold into 3.

Repeat this a couple of time. You would have basically laminated the dough 4 times in about less than 5 min. Try to pat and push edges and corners towards the inside of the dough just to make sure the whole slab looks like a proper and neat rectangle.


Cover the dough with a cling film and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours before using it. The same way we do with any buttery puff pastry. To shortcut that, I place it for 20 min in the freezer. It does the job.


Notes

  • Always use the puff pastry cold but still possible to roll so it does not break.
  • Always fill it with cold filling, never warm or hot.
  • Always use a sharp knife to cut and shape your pastry for optimum puffing effect.
  • Never let the egg wash flow on the edges where you have cut the dough, it also prevents good puffing.
The egg wash over the edge has prevented this pastry from puffing properly
  • Once your pastry is shaped, again, place it for 10 min in the freezer or 30 - 60 min in the fridge before baking for better results.
  • Browse the blog using the key words "puff pastry" and enjoy the many nibbles and starters made of puff.


Homemade Moroccan ouarka (or warka) sheets

Ouarka/warka sheets are to Moroccan cuisine what filo/phyllo is to the Balkan/Levant Cuisine. It's so important to have it around or at least to know where to buy it when needed.


Yes you could get hold of Brik sheets from supermarkets (a Tunisian sister of ouarka) but just like filo, a properly made sheet can't be compared with a shop-bought version which has been made industrially.

In Morocco, we are lucky to pop out to the market and buy freshly made ouarka by weight. The connoisseurs buy the one made on steam instead of the one directly cooked over heat. The first one last longer and happens to be more freezer-friendly while the second one is not always up to the mark.


Since I left Morocco years ago, I had to find a way to wrap my briouates (triangle/samosas), sbiaates (rolls) and bastillas (sort of Moroccan pies). Yes I used rice wrappers, filo and brik sheets. But there is something about ouarka I couldn't find in any of them, especially when the wrapped food goes cold and you want to heat it again..

Sellers in Moroccan Markets making ouarka the traditional way

Then, like most of us, I browsed the internet to find an answer. Turned out that someone has discovered the brushing method which anyone can do as opposed to the highly skilled old method which hardly any of us can follow. That was about 8 years ago! But I also downloaded a file with a set of Moroccan recipes, about 10 years ago and where the same method was described. Obviously the YouTube video encouraged me rather than a word file.

Now this method is no secret, bloggers, youtubers, cookbook writers copied it and made it their own.

So it's time I post it here, for those who still don't know about it/scared to tackle it.

My auntie told me to use fine semolina flour in my batter while the famous cookbook writer Paula Wolfert advised me to keep it for a few hours to rest before using the batter. She also suggested we add vinegar and a tiny bit of oil.

So I go by the improved recipe of Paula Wolfert which she has developped with the famous Moroccan Chef Mourad Lahlou of Aziza.

So here is Paula's recipe which I have adapted. The lazy and efficient method to make ouarka should encourage you to make it without even giving it a second thought. You won't believe how easy this is.


And to the woman who started this method in the first place which no one remembers: We love you!



Ingredients
Makes about 18 round ouarkas of 24 cm 
Prep: 7 min - Resting time: at least 4 hours- Cooking: 18 min

  • 200 g of strong white flour
  • 60 g  of fine semolina flour
  • 1 3/4 of water
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 1 tsp of vinegar
  • 1 tsp of oil
In addition
  • 3 tbsps of vegetable oil to brush the pan and the cooked ouarkas.





Preparation



Prepare the batter:

In a liquidizer or food processor, add 1 cup of water followed by the flours and salt. 

Process the dough for 30 seconds. With the machine still running, slowly pour in the remaining water, vinegar and oil and process another 30 to 45 seconds, or until you have a smooth liquid batter. 

Sift the mix. Pour batter into a 1 quart container, cover and refrigerate overnight (or at least 4 hours).

Make the Warka

Set a deep pot of water on the stove and bring to a fast boil. Choose a non-stick skillet that sits snugly over the pot and secure with string. Before making the first pastry leaf, dip a piece of kitchen roll in oil and wipe the skillet/pan. Use another piece to get rid of any oily drop. For best results, trap the steam by using some batter all around the edges in contact with the skillet/pan. You could also wrap a kitchen towel all around and make a knot to keep it fixed.

Stir up the batter before making each sheet.

Lift up the brush thick with batter and quickly brush the batter evenly over the skillet. Use a circular motion to create a thin film-like layer.
If necessary, repeat stirring and applying a thinner second layer across the circle in order to coat any empty spaces.  I personally found out that starting with the inner centre to the edges helps cooking the sheets evenly, the reason is by the time the centre cooks, the edges don't dry.


Cook the leaf for about 1 minute, or until it turns completely white, the edges begin to come off. 

We cook the ouarka sheets from one side so do not ever flip it to cook it from the other side

Use your fingertips to lift the pastry off the skillet from one of the sides, transfer to a paper towel, shiny and cooked side up, barely brush all over the shiny side with oil, cover with another paper towel and gently press to remove excess oil. Leave the paper on the pastry. Too much oil is not good as it will damage the sheets. Carry on until there is no batter left.



When all the batter is used, slide the stack (paper and leaves) into a plastic bag to keep them from drying out. The package can be kept in the refrigerator for up to three days, or you can double wrap and freeze.


Note

If you are planning to make rolls, you don't need to make big sheets of ouarka, you can just brush rectangular strips which are just about enough for the job needed. Usually these strips are also sold in Moroccan markets and they're about 15 cm large and 30 cm tall.


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