Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Spices in Moroccan Cooking

[Photo: Marrakech spice market, Clifford A. Wright]

In the Mediterranean today, one finds the spice markets, for the most part, in the Muslim countries, the Latin and Greek Mediterranean having given up cooking spices long ago. Today, one can still smell the allspice, cardamon, cloves, and various bahārāt mixtures in their burlap bags and satchels while strolling through the Sūq al-Baḥramiyya and Sūq al-Sakatiyya in Aleppo. In Alexandria, another important Levantine spice market, one could buy all kinds of spices, and in Morocco the cuisine is an ode to spices even today.

An example is the fish marinade or relish known as sharmūla. Moroccan cooks, to cook thicker cuts of fish, use a kind of relish-marinade of finely sliced or torn herbs and spices called chermoulla, tchermila, chermoula, or charmoula, which are various transliterations for sharmūla , ﺷﺮﻣﻮﻟﮥ , derived from the word meaning “to tear lightly.” Some cooks gently heat the sharmūla in a pan or liquefy everything in a blender. The marinade is also used with chicken. The suggested amounts in parentheses are in case you decide to put everything in a food processor.

1/2 cup very finely chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves (1 1/2 cups loosely-packed whole leaves)
1/2 cup very finely chopped fresh parsley leaves (1 1/2 cups loosely-packed whole leaves)
6 garlic cloves, peeled and very finely chopped
1 small onion, peeled and very finely chopped (1 whole small onion)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
6 to 8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon hot paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon powdered saffron or a pinch of saffron threads, lightly toasted in an oven, and ground in a mortar
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
Mix all the ingredients together and refrigerate for 1 hour before using.
Makes about 1 cup

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