Charmoula is a robust Moroccan marinade that is bursting with flavor. It’s most often used as a marinade or dry rub with fish, but the sauce lends itself to vegetables as well and is an exciting blend to try with eggplants. Charmoula, also spelled chermoula, is a mix of herbs, spices, crushed garlic, olive oil and lemon juice. It’s simple to make, and simply adds a world of flavor to a dish.
Recipes for charmoula are easy to find and popular throughout Northern Africa and the Middle East. This recipe comes from one of the most prolific writers and cookbook authors on Moroccan cuisine, Paula Wolfert. Her book ‘The Food of Morocco’ (which hit shelves in 2011) is an exquisite and colorful journey through Morocco for the eyes and palate. Pick up a few eggplants at the market, also known as aubergines, along with a few basic ingredients and you’re on your way to taste of the Marrakesh.
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon Moroccan paprika
pinch of cayenne
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt to taste
Place all of the ingredients in a bowl. Whisk together, then set aside for at least a half an hour to give the sauce some time for the flavors to mellow and meld together. Mix again just before adding it to the eggplant.
Cilantro is a popular herb used in Moroccan cuisine. For some though the flavor of it can pose a challenge, thus simply substitute the cilantro with more parsley. Fresh squeezed lemon is ideal in this sauce, but if not accessible, vinegar can be used in its place. Moroccan paprika is a more vibrant red compared with its Hungarian counterpart, and it’s also moistened with a hint of olive oil that’s blended in. Here I use a Moroccan paprika ground by hand that I acquired in Israel. Penzeys Spices or Whole Spice Market in California may carry Moroccan paprika, and Moroccan cumin as well, if you’re curious to give both spices a try. Good quality ingredients, as with any dish, makes a difference, as does the flavor of the olive oil you choose. Olive oils have different flavor profiles; here I used a versatile extra virgin olive oil that has a bit of a buttery and fruity aroma from California Olive Ranch.
For the eggplants, slice two medium eggplants, spread out each slice separately on a cutting board, then sprinkle a bit of kosher salt on top of each and set aside for about 10 minutes. This method enables the eggplants to sweat and helps remove some of the bitter juices. Dry each slice with a paper towel before turning and applying the same technique to the other side.
Wolfert calls for a two-step process in her book to prevent the eggplants from acting as a sponge and absorbing an excess amount of olive oil. There are several options to preparing the eggplants for you to consider. The first is frying, which as noted, will drench the eggplants in oil. Another is to lightly coat or brush them with olive oil to crisp up in a hot 425 degree oven, then finish frying them on the stovetop; the baking-then-frying method enables you to use a lot less oil. Another option is to simply heat the eggplants (that were first roasted in the oven) in a dry frying pan (just before serving) no additional olive oil required. Yet another method is to heat the eggplants in a GreenPan roasting dish; vegetables don’t usually stick to this material and can be roasted dry. Lastly, there’s always the option to prepare the eggplants on the grill.
Frying or roasting with the added olive will result in a crispier dish, but I found that I don’t miss the extra oil once the eggplants are smothered with the sauce. It’s a matter of preference. Whichever route you choose, place your roasted eggplants on a serving dish, then smother them with the charmoula marinade. The dish can be served warm or room temperature; garnish with extra herbs once plated and enjoy!
For more details on why some find cilantro to be offensive, read more on cilantro and soap in the New York Times. Miller’s Blend by California Olive Ranch is an olive oil I use regularly, and they were kind to provide me with Everyday California Extra Virgin Olive Oil as a sample to taste. For friends who are part of the Tasting Jerusalem community, and all are welcome to join the group, there’s a Chermoula Aubergine and Bulgar recipe to try. And I highly recommend Wolfert’s book for even more dishes with charmoula and as an incredible source for Moroccan cuisine.