The editor for My Paris Kitchen came to Paris last week. Since we’d spent two years working together on a book about my kitchen, I figured – at long last – we’d be able to dine tête-a-tête, in my actual Paris kitchen. So I invited her for dinner.
We were in touch nearly every day for the last few months as I raced toward the finish line, and went had plenty of back-and-forths about every little detail. And since the dinner was somewhat of a celebration of finally leaning back after all that work and relaxing together, I wanted to make her something from the book. (Although I did think it might have been funny if I’d ordered a take-away pizza, and served that to her. But I thought better of it.)
Because it was a warm summer night, I gathered all the ingredients to make the lamb tagine in the book. Although tagine is a North African dish, Parisians have adopted tagines and couscous as their own, just like Californians have adopted sushi and Mexican food.
I headed to my favorite butcher in Belleville, an Arab boucherie where I like to go because they’re always good-natured. And they’re always surprised by the américain who comes in, and is very, very specific about what he wants. (When you’re writing a recipe and you need 450 grams of something, you don’t want 550 grams. You want 450 grams — exactly.) So I make them weigh every piece of meat in the refrigerated case, and try a different piece if necessary, to get it as close as possible.
They’re always good natured about it, though. However recently I was in there picking up a roast chicken, and they tried to convince me to buy a roasted lamb head, which they had lined up on the rôtisserie below the chickens. While I’m sure they are delicious, I wasn’t sure how my editor would react to an invitation to come over and communally pick the meat – and all the other stuff (that I won’t mention here…) that’s in and around it – from a roasted lamb head with our fingers.
While I was preparing dinner, at the last minute, I decided to make chermoula, a spicy herb sauce often used in North African cuisine. One thing I love about condiments, like gastrique and chimichurri, is that they can be made in advance.
And another thing, which is even more important, is that they can take a standard dish – even something that’s already as inviting and highly seasoned as a tagine – and dial it up even more, with additional spices and flavors. And each guest is welcome to add as much, or as little, as they like – which is especially important when you are feeding a Franco-American group of guests who have different tolerances for levels of heat and spiciness.
Dinner was a success and after polishing off a bottle of Champagne, and a few bottles of rosé, we discussed another book, which I don’t think was her intent. Nor mine. If it happens, though, don’t expect any recipes for lamb head. But like our dinner, I wouldn’t count out the possibility of some spicy surprises.
Makes about 3/4 cup (125g), enough for 4 – 6 servings
There are no stores that sell spicy chili peppers near my place, so I went with Thai chili paste, which reflects 1) My multicultural leanings, and 2) My unique ability to make do in a variety of situations. If you have fresh chiles, feel free to use a favorite one (depending on your comfort with heat), chopped and seeded, in place of the chili paste. If you have neither, a dash of cayenne or red chili flakes will add some heat.
Some people add preserved lemon to chermoula. I can’t say I prefer it, as I find that it muddies the taste. But you can add some if you’d like. I’ve seen other versions with fresh dill, ginger root, onions, and coriander seeds. So feel free to play around with it. You can use a mortar and pestle to make chermoula, a mini-chopper, or the small bowl of a food processor, if you have one.
Just a dab of this hot sauce is all that’s needed to enliven a dish. I also imagine it’d make a pretty nice sauce for a simple pasta. This recipe can easily be doubled.
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1/3 cup (15g) coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1/3 cup (15g) coarsely chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1-2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- 6 to 8 tablespoons (90 to 125ml) olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon chili paste (or 1/2 to 1 fresh chile, seeded and chopped)
1. Sprinkle the cumin seeds in a skillet and toast them over medium to high heat, stirring, until they smell fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Set aside.
2. In the bowl of a mini-chopper or food processor (or in a mortar and pestle), place the parsley, cilantro, garlic, smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon of lemon juice, 6 tablespoons (90ml) olive oil, salt, chili paste, and toasted cumin. Grind until smooth.
3. Taste and add the additional teaspoon of lemon juice and the rest of the olive oil (or more), if necessary, so the sauce is a loose paste.
Storage: Chermoula can be made a few days in advance and refrigerated. It will keep in the refrigerator for up to three days.
Just a note that I’ll be doing the Franco-American thing, and taking a little summer break for a week or two. Bonnes vacances! – David