Chermoula

chermoula recipe-9

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.

Chermoula

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.

Chermoula

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.

Chermoula

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.

Chermoula

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.

Chermoula

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.


Related Recipes

Lamb Tagine

Couscous with Butternut Squash and Preserved Lemons

Pesto

Preserved Lemons


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

41 comments

  • Lamb head is delicious, you should really give it a try. Here, we usually eat it smoked and boiled, but I’m sure it would taste even better from a rotisserie

  • Just wondering what you did with the cumin seed.

    They get blended up with all the other ingredients. Thanks! -dl

  • I’m always looking for another sauce to use with lamb and this is definitely one we would enjoy! We love all things spicy! I would probably try it with a touch of preserved lemon because I always have some in the fridge, but I can see how too much of it might muddle the outcome. Thanks for that warning and thanks for a great sauce!

  • When will the discount be for the Paris Pastry App?

  • Had it been for myself, I probably would have giving the lamb head a try. But I wouldn’t had that to serve guests. You don’t want to risk grossing them out, or to make the eating process awkward. Good choice. The chermoula looks wonderful!

  • My husband tells the story from when he lived in Germany of a delicious soup he was served by two elderly aunts who refused to tell him what the soup was made of. He ate three bowls before they eventually told him it was lamb brain soup. He thought a minute and figured if he had known in advance he wouldn’t have eaten even a mouthful, but since he’d already gobbled up three bowls of the stuff (and thought it was wonderful) he should be more open to trying new things.

    Hard to disguise a lamb head I suppose…

  • Where is the print button? I tried printing this recipe and got 13 pages of sponsors before I ran out of paper.

  • How exciting to anticipate a new book when I am only half way through My Paris Kitchen! Now that I know what you consider to be your most persuasive recipe, I will move the lamb tagine recipe up to the top of my list. Thanks again for all your efforts to make all these recipes so good. Not a single disappointment in the lot. The consistency is impressive and I hope will inspire your peers to test their recipes as thoroughly as you do.

    Smoked pig head is popular and festive here with a crowd of 4 or 5 to dig in and pick together. I will suggest the lamb alternative for the next celebration. Thanks for yet another good idea.

  • I imagine this is a bit of a more heady/spicy/smoky chimchurri. This would be awesome with really good roasted chicken (a la north african Jonathan Waxman)

  • We lived in Paris, right in back of Notre Dam, our favorite restaurant was a tiny Moroccan one, run by a family. The best food too! I wrote down the Chermoula recipe, it reminds me alot of our salsa verde here in Mexico City and Cuernavaca, it goes with everything! I grind the cumin seeds after toasting them, before adding them with all the other ingredients to the mini cuisinart. And looking forward to eating the Chermoula with Tagine.
    By the way, your granola recipe really is the BEST granola. We add “piloncillo”. to give it a mexican taste.

  • Hi David, it just occurred to me as I read this article, that you are living in a place where measurements are in grams and liters (“450 grams of something”), but you write recipes for an American kitchen. I was in Toulouse recently and found all sorts of fun cookbooks in the market (I read French better than I speak it), But hesitated to purchase them, mainly due to a scarcity of suitcase space, but also due to the temperature and metric measurements. Any tips or easy conversion formulas?

    • I write recipes in both because I’m American, but live in Europe. And I think recipes should be as accessible as possible. (That said, writing in both formats is often like writing two recipes!) You can use Google to convert many ingredients. For example, type in “10 ounces in grams” and it will show the result. I do recommend bakers & cooks have a kitchen scale. I think it’s one of the most important things you can have in your kitchen. My scale coverts easily between grams and ounces.

  • This post brought back memories of living in Paris and walking by the rotisseries on the street. What a surprise it was for me the first time, expecting some incredible roast chicken but finding lambs head instead. I never had the guts to try it but I’m sure it was probably delicious. Growing up Italian and having a French husband, not much is wasted in regards to the butchered animal…I just don’t want my food looking back at me!

    I love your cookbook and I can’t wait for the next. Hopefully I’ll actually make a signing event at Omnivore this time. Wish you could come up to Petaluma for a signing at Copperfield’s… then you could see your Cowgirl Creamery friends too.

  • Great article and no doubt your editor appreciated the efforts made for her to enjoy the dinner AND the champagne with wine as well.

    Given your sense of humour, which I so enjoy in your writing, here is a glimpse of mine for you.

    IF you’d purchased the lamb’s head instead, you could have disguised it with a large pair of sunglasses!

    Enjoy your R & R in the US & France.

    Still so enjoying your latest publication with all it’s great anecdotes. Thanks!

  • @Michael Rothenhoefer: Copy/Paste into your favorite word processor then print. I’ll skip the story about why, I promise it doesn’t make a difference lol,

  • Hi David,
    This has nothing to do with your Chermoula recipe or even the tagine. But your mention of the lamb’s head invited back a funny memory. My Apulian parents have a specialty ragu that they prepare with lamb’s head. When my husband and I were engaged to be married, he would come by my parents home all the time. He’s always been easygoing and felt welcomed and comfortable enough to go into their fridge and help himself. Much to his shock, one Saturday afternoon, on the hunt for a snack he met face to face with the lamb’s head propped in a Pyrex in the fridge that was to be the base of Sunday’s ragu. The poor guy became much more inhibited when it came to my parents fridge after that incident!
    Best regards from NY, Maria

  • Thank you for skipping the communal lamb’s head (and the take-away pizza). Although, I would have enjoyed watching Norm’s face with the presentation of the head. The chermoula (and everything else) was delicious, of course.

  • No fresh chili peppers! Ah, the realities one must face I suppose. In winter yes, but in the height of summer…? Horrors! Lol. Sounds delicious, can’t wait to try it. Thanks for sharing your fabulous stories and recipes. Enjoy them so much.

  • Lamb heads really are delightful, and I envy you having easy access to a butcher who sells them! They’re a special order around here, and roasting something like that in my small apartment oven is a trick (as I know you can imagine). I’d love to see the adventures of David Lebovitz meets (meats?) a lamb head next time ’round.

  • Marty S — it won’t help you with the conversion of the measurements, but if you get a small food scale that can display weight in either pounds or grams, you can follow a metric recipe. Plus, after you use the scale a while, visualizing how much something is in grams will start to become more intuitive. I started using an Oxo food scale last year (hope it’s kosher to mention brand names here) and I totally dig it. It’s actually easier and faster than measuring. The one I have runs $50 USD and it’s my favorite Christmas gift from last year. Can’t imagine not having one anymore. Bonne chance et bon appetit from Seattle!

    David — have a blast on vacation / holiday!!

  • Your description of the lamb head made me recall one of my favorite memories, of a Hmong family I encountered in my local park, Redwood Regional Park, near my home in Oakland, California. Oakland has one of the most diverse populations in the world, and this is one of my favorite stories to illustrate that. I was walking my dog, Daisy, when I encountered a group grilling an entire sheep’s head on the grill at the picnic table. I stopped to talk as best I could with them; their English was rocky. They said it was delicious and also showed me the shin bones they covered with hair that they had in a plastic bag leaning against the grill post. I just love this image. I wonder how much they paid for it?

  • How essential is to be friends with the butcher, you are so right David! I have never been able to buy meat at the supermarket because I don’t get to talk to the butcher and discuss what I want. Good luck with the next book, I am sure you will make something wonderful of it again.

  • I don’t believe you should be so quick to let that recipe out, David.

    If a sauce like that got into the wrong hands… someone might be able to take over the whole world.

  • i love lambs head – pick off the meat o yum and in mexico one can find it there too very delicious

    anyways the chermoula/charmoula you write is not always spicy heat but flavourful

    in some parts of moroc they make it with the pepper oil while where we grew up it includes vinegar plus lemons juice but no preserved lemons – maybe that is why you have the ‘muddled’ flavour – not sure where anyone puts in the preserved lemon for this recipe. Perhaps in the legumes that are served along w fish or meat?

    Moroc is all regional and families have differences too of how things are done

  • I’ve been trying to think of something excellent to serve a lamb-lover who is coming to dinner soon…I think I may have just found my meal. The chermoula will definitely be the perfect extra touch!

  • So….when using a fresh chile (it is August as I write), what kind? Many thanks

  • I just want to chime in about kitchen scale and measuring by weight. I am an American and grew up with cups, T, tsp, etc. but I “saw the light” several years ago and have never looked back. I find my results are more consistent with measuring by weight and particularly baking as I use a hard red spring wheat flour from Montana, where I live, and using volume measurements just does not work.

    Things as simple as making a cold coffee brew (1 oz coffee to 2 cups water) are easy.

    Ultimately fewer things to wash up as well.

    I don’t know why so many of us are resistant to volume measuring!

  • arggh… I meant:

    I don’t know why so many of us are resistant to *weight* measuring!

  • Hi,

    I think I have seen a recipe somewhere on your Webpage, it was made with tomatoes, cheese, capers, and some basilica ….I am looking for a long long time, can´t find it.

    Help!!!!!!!!!!!

    Patrcik

  • David,
    Loved Paris Kitchen and The Sweet Life in Paris– truly some of the most enjoyable books I’ve ever read. Your blog is lovely and also funny and beautifully written. Looking forward to your next book.

  • Off topic but this is a great project, though no doubt controversial – would love to see you there somewhere, David!

    Epicurean Village is Too Rich For Some Paris Appetites (New York Times)

  • I baked some potatoes without skins (they were looking funky) and tossed on some homecooked white beans and then your chermoula – my husband said to save that recipe!

  • This was sauce was wonderful! Made with ease in my blender, and served over baked lamb meatballs and wild rice, it was an easy and flavorful weeknight dinner. Thank you for sharing this recipe. I can’t wait to try some variations. Cheers!

  • I love spicy and if I have the option of fresh chili peppers, then definitely I will try this. Thanks for giving us this delicious recipe.

  • I love the idea of using this as a sauce for pasta! And it can be made ahead of time–which is definitely a plus!

  • Wonderful addition to tonight’s yellow lentil soup. Thank you.

  • My Tunisian friends add caraway seeds and coriander seeds to the cumin! Caraw ay is almost ubiquitous in Tunisian main dishes. But probably every cook has his/her variations on the chermoula theme.

  • Just made the Bay Leaf Pound Cake. It is very very nice thanks. It makes a perfect Sunday morning cake especially when made the night before.

    Best, and thanks,
    BER

  • Made it and draped it over steamed mussels. What a treat! And my husband put a couple of spoonfuls into cream for a sauce over halibut. We love this recipe!

  • I love the flavours in the chermoula, it’s such a versatile thing – I have just started reading your site and love your recipes.