Some of my favorite travel memories linger from my time in Morocco. I had the good fortune to have Peace Corps connections that introduced me to volunteers in both tiny towns and large cities. I stayed in their houses, visited their host families and haunts, and ate dinner in the homes of their Moroccan friends. I could never repeat or improve on the experience.
But the food: some of that I can and do repeat, even though it’s never quite the same. For example, every time I ate chermoula in Morocco, the flavor was unique. The basic version is essentially a pesto featuring cilantro and parsley, but my favorite versions included a little fresh ginger and extra spices, and I replicate it as well as I can. I mostly ate it in a tagine while in Morocco, but I’ve since learn to love it as a grilling marinade, accompanied, of course, by couscous.
Grilled Shrimp with Chermoula
1 tablespoon ginger
1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley
1/3 cup fresh cilantro
zest and juice of 1 lemon (1/4 cup lemon juice)
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
pinch of cayenne
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1 pound large raw shrimp
1 large lemon, cut into 1/8-inch slices (optional)
Make the chermoula in advance. In a food processor, grind the garlic and ginger to a paste. Blend in the parsley, cilantro, and lemon zest, followed by the lemon juice and remaining spices. Remove the blade from the food processor bowl, or pour its contents into a separate bowl. Form an emulsion by slowly pouring in the olive oil and mixing it into the herbs with a fork or whisk. Adjust the seasoning as needed. For the best flavor, cover and refrigerate for at least 1 day.
When ready to eat, prepare the shrimp as you would for Wasabi-Marinated Shrimp, defrosting them under cold water and then peeling and deveining. Pour half of the chermoula over the shrimp, toss until they are evenly coated, and refrigerate, covered, for up to 1 hour. Soak 6–8 bamboo skewers in cold water for about 20 minutes, and heat the grill until it’s very hot.
Thread the marinated shrimp, alternating with the lemon slices if desired, onto the soaked bamboo skewers, nesting them closely together. When the grill is hot, lightly oil the grill grate and place the skewers on top. Grill for 2–3 minutes per side, until the shrimp are puffy, pink, and opaque. Serve immediately with the remaining sauce. Serves 2–4 with couscous (see below).
Tips & Tricks
- Depending on the power of your food processor, it may be best to at least coarsely chop all chermoula ingredients before pureeing. If you don’t have a food processor, get everything as small as possible; a ginger grater and mortar and pestle will lessen your knife time.
- Chermoula can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks in an airtight jar, so you may want a bigger batch. Leftover chermoula can be used over other grilled fish or vegetables such as eggplant, and it’s tasty as a salad dressing. If it’s too thick, particularly after storing, add more olive oil.
- Don’t be fooled by “fresh” shrimp in the display case at the supermarket; that shrimp was probably deep frozen at sea but defrosted at the store. Unless you or someone you know will be pulling the shrimp pots, buy bags of still-frozen raw shrimp with the head off but shell on.
Twice as Tasty
Although I struggle to precisely replicate some foods I ate in Morocco, couscous presents the greatest challenge. The texture of traditional steamed, hand-rubbed couscous can never be replicated with instant boiled grains. But in the United States, noninstant semolina is hard to find, and couscoussières are expensive pots suitable for a giant Moroccan family. So I grudgingly make do with instant.
The couscous I ate in Morocco was usually served under a mound of heavily spiced vegetables. One unique variation I encountered was almost like a dessert, with a little sugar and a blend of spices somehow worked into the steamed grains and served unadorned. It was made just for me, the nonlamb eater, in a portion that would have served at least 4 people. I had to leave much of it behind, failing in the cultural politeness of a clean plate, but since then I’ve preferred my couscous with a dash of spice.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 cup instant couscous
Combine the water, butter, cinnamon, and salt in a small saucepan; bring it to a boil over high heat. Place the couscous in a medium bowl, and pour the hot water mixture over the grains; stir well, cover, and let sit 10–15 minutes to absorb the liquid. Fluff the grains with a fork until they separate, and then divide among plates and serve with Grilled Shrimp with Chermoula or another main dish. Serves 4.
Tips & Tricks
- If you’re serving a larger group, you can double the recipe but use one dish for prep and serving. Skip the bowl and instead can spread the dry couscous in a 9-inch baking dish before pouring in the water. Once the liquid is absorbed, fluff and serve straight from the pan.
- Couscous, even instant, is best made fresh, but when we’re traveling I often make extra toss and toss the leftovers with fresh or sautéed vegetables, a bit of chermoula, and Dry-Salted Feta. It makes a great on-the-go salad or wrap.
- The semolina grains can support many other meals. Skip the bun and serve it under Black Bean Veggie Burgers or Raw-Chickpea Falafel. Top it with Shish Kebabs with Garlic–Soy Marinade in summer, Roasted Beets in fall, and Marinated and Grilled Portobello Mushrooms whenever. Or substitute it for the quinoa in Warm Quinoa and Feta Salad.
Like what you’ve learned? To learn more in a Twice as Tasty workshop—in your own kitchen, among friends, and with my personal help—click here. If you’re not yet a Twice as Tasty subscriber, get this newsletter and weekly post notifications delivered straight to your inbox by clicking here.