I know, I know. I go from sugar and spice and everything nice, to sardines and chermoula. That’s what you get when you come here: the unexpected, the unusual…the unpronounceable.
Apologies are due if you were lured in by last week’s summer berries crumble tart, a crisp pastry sheet cradling a Queen’s ransom of jewel-like fruits. It was really lovely: not too sweet, lots of colour and juice. A simple summer pud for pud-deniers. But hey, I’m a savoury girl at heart. A savoury girl who wants you to scoop out the fattest, reddest tomatoes you can find, and fill them to the brim with chermoula-laced whole grains, herbs and, erm, fish. Stop making that face. I can see you. Honestly. Have I ever lied to you?So, the chermoula. What in Heaven’s name is that, you may be asking yourself. According to chefzadi, “it’s a marinade, a dip, a sauce, a dressing, a spread.” It can also be seen as a pesto, which is really any fragrant assembly of aromatics, oil and herbs pounded to make an even more fragrant paste. Used extensively in North African cooking, chermoula typically binds together coriander (cilantro) or parsley, olive oil, lemon (preserved or not), garlic, paprika and cumin. But any search of Algerian, Moroccan or Tunisian cookbooks will show just how flexible and inclusive is chermoula. I’m just not sure if replacing coriander with fennel fronds and mint quite makes the cut. But I promise you it is quite delicious. Until corrected I will stick my neck out and declare it a kind of chermoula. Besides, if I had called it pesto, you would’ve thought I was taking the mickey.
My use of chermoula in this way is one I have not come across but I promise you that it works exceptionally well. Mr A actually licked the plate and asked me to make it again next week. This simple recipe – inspired by some buxom Marmande(Marmonde) tomatoes on sale at Earthy in Canonmills, Edinburgh – also dovetails nicely with my desire to have a Spanish-Mediterranean vibe over the next few posts. I know it looks a bit worthy and hemp-sandally but I urge you to try it. And, because I like you so much, I’ve got an even quicker, and vegan, use for the leftover chermoula following the main recipe. I am trying it out on my nutrition class tomorrow. I hope it gets a thumbs-up :D In any case Mr A has just come in from work, found the leftover pot of it and eaten it all in one go with his finger. Praise indeed.
Chermoula and Sardine Stuffed Tomatoes – Omega 3-tastic
A little bit Mediterranean, a little bit Moroccan, a lot a bit tasty. IMHO. This easy recipe is a great way to get even the most ardent sardine-phobes eating the king of Omega 3 fish, the humble sardine. I’ve used sustainably-fished Scottish tinned sardines from Fish 4 Ever, but use whatever best-quality sardines or mackerel you can get hold of – in spring water; hold the salt. If using fresh sardines- or even mackerel – fillet them and lightly poach first. Here’s how to tackle the filleting.
The chermoula, a North African pesto of fresh herbs, cumin, paprika and lemon, is a fabulous way to add a lift to white or oily fish, grains (think herb and veg spiked salads), chicken, vegetables (kebabs on the BBQ perhaps) and dressings. It also makes an outstandingly zippy dip too (see below).
You will probably use about half of the amount this makes so pop the rest in a small jar and top with a little oil to cover. Use this pesto within a week, or freeze by the tablespoon in an ice cube tray to add into minestrone or any boring supermarket soup. Or, do as I did and make a quick and nutritious dip. Conner Middelman-Whitney’s fantastic book, Zest for Life, provided the template for the chermoula, but I changed the proportions a bit and used mint and fennel instead of coriander (very unconventional for a chermoula – might be illegal) and left out the saffron. I hope she doesn’t mind.
Handful of fresh parsley – leaves and stalks, plus extra
Palmful of fresh mint leaves
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp paprika (not hot, or smoked; just normal)
½ tsp each of ground cumin, ground coriander and turmeric
Zest and juice of ½ to whole lemon (I like a whole lemon)
Good pinch of salt
1 tbsp olive oil
If you are good with a pestle and mortar – how this herby sauce is traditionally made – then go for it. Pound away. Me? I’m a bit rubbish and frankly quite lazy so electric mini chopper it is. Whatever method, pulverise all of the chermoula ingredients and set it aside for now.
4 spring onions, chopped
4 tbsp chopped fennel – optional (or something else you like, such as celery or sweet pepper)
good pinch of chilli flakes – optional
1 tsp olive oil
8 heaped tbsp of ready-to-eat grains (gluten-free or not)- leftovers or from a pack. I used a supermarket-own pack bought at Waitrose, but most supermarkets have something suitable. Merchant Gourmet is stocked in larger UK supermarkets.
2 tins of sardine fillets (about 6 fillets in each tin; 105g tin) – I used Fish 4 Ever brand and it is low-salt and Scottish (species name is spratus spratus -you gottta love that!)
4 large Marmande or beefsteak tomatoes
4 tbsp pine nuts
Slice off the top of each tomato to make a lid for the stuffed tomato. Scoop out the seeds and watery bits, and save it for another purpose (I added mine to a supermarket soup along with leftover grains). Turn the tomato ‘shells’ upside down on a few layers of paper towel while you sort the filling.
Heat 1 tsp of olive oil in a small pan and lightly fry the spring onions, fennel and chilli (or you could just use them raw). Pop the cooked vegetables in a mixing bowl with the ready-to-eat grains, the drained sardines and 2 tablespoons of chermoula, mix well with your hands and check the seasoning – maybe adding more salt or lemon. Spoon equal amounts of the spiced sardine mix into the tomato shells, sprinkle on the pine nuts; pop on the lids (or not; it doesn’t matter) and slick with a little extra chermoula that has been slaked with some oil. Put the stuffed tomatoes on a baking tray and bake at 200C/400F for 15 minutes. Serve with a sharp salad and maybe some good, lactic-ey sourdough bread – the latter is Mr A’s suggestion for mopping up all the tray juices.
Super speedy version: Use a prepared paste, such as harissa (Belazu’s Rose Harissa is divine. A staple ingredient for me) or a coriander pesto.
Variations: Use this mix to stuff marrows or large sweet peppers. Make it vegan by swapping the fish for some cooked lentils or use a ready-to-eat grain and lentil mix.
Chermoula White Bean Dip
Using ‘leftover’ chermoula, this could not be a simpler. Chermoula recipe above.
1 carrot, diced
2 spring onions/scallions, sliced
2 tbsp chopped fennel (optional)
2 heaped tbsp chermoula
small handful chopped parsley
1 tin of white beans, drained and rinsed
lemon juice, to taste
Lightly sauté the carrot, fennel and onion in a little oil. Pop everything in a food processor and pulse, adding a little olive oil and lemon juice to loosen and add blending. Taste for seasoning and serve with crudite and bread.