If you read any of my food stories, you will know I look at well used ingredients in different ways. I change the preparation and remain open to the interpretation. In case of staples like garlic, chillies, turmeric, cilantro are used frequently, if not daily, in my kitchen. What I love is when I transform them in new and exciting ways.
This recipe reframing has some similarities to a monsoon (Warning: geography nerd). From June to September, the monsoon, is essentially a reversal of wind patterns that starts from Kerala and then spreads to all of India. The cool oceanic breeze blows over India’s scorching hot landmass, resulting in rainfall.
What I find most interesting about monsoons, is their unpredictability. The country and its people must remain present despite external factors like rainfall, flooding, and water shortages, and agricultural drought. For me, that strikes a zen-like chord about looking at things in new perspectives and remaining present, despite extenuating circumstances.
This concept can be mirrored in the kitchen with the simple act of dry roasting spices and aromatics, or whirling the blender, or not forgoing the pleasure in the way fresh cilantro smells as you wash it.
Without a stretch, I would describe cilantro as the monsoon of the herb world. It’s sister, parsley, particularly Italian parsley has a cold-rain flavour, whereas cilantro has hints of earthiness, and fruity citrus peel. It’s bittersweet flavour is best used in fresh preparations, as it is not heat-stable. If using in warm or hot dishes, I recommend adding cilantro at the end of cooking. Cilantro calms saltiness, cuts fatness, adds a punch of freshness, and lends a cooling note to spicy food. Cilantro has the ability to rid the body of heavy metals like mercury, along with being a vitamin and mineral powerhouse.
Now on to define the term chermoula. Essentially, its a sauce that hails from Algerian, Libyan, Moroccan and Tunisian. Literally it means a mixture of several things in no particular order. However, the basic building blocks of chermoula are fresh herbs, garlic, lemon juice, salt and a base of olive oil. It should remind you of a chimichurri or vinaigrette.
Like all good sauces there is room for improvisation. Like monsoons, this sauce can be geographically or seasonally adapted. Sometimes, I add fresh ginger, other times I include mint.
I happen to love cilantro. Relax, if you are one of those people who has a hate relationship with cilantro. You can easily substitute flat leaf parsley instead. Or use a 50/50 split of cilantro and parsley. Tip: When working with cilantro and Italian parsley, remember that their stems are actually flavourful, so be sure to include those.
While purists may recommend a mortar and pestle to make this sauce, I find a blender works just fine. A few minutes of work. Remember to take a second and revel in the incredible colour. This sauce is gorgeous. Plus, it looks and tastes even better if you make it an hour or so in advance and let the flavours develop.
This sauce can be whirled together and then stored in the fridge. I recommend this Monsoon Chermoula with steak, tandoori chicken, roasted potatoes, scrambled eggs, and everything imaginable. Yes, its that good.
1 large bunch cilantro, washed
1/2 head garlic, cloves broken apart
3 serrano chiles
½ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon lime (1 small lime)
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon white vinegar
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons grated fresh turmeric
1 teaspoon pink Himalayan salt
Dry roast unpeeled garlic cloves and chilies in an oven on 500F until soft and blotchy brown in spots. Remove garlic skins and chilli stems. Place in blender, along with cilantro and other ingredients until smooth.
Jessie Lehail is the author of Indian Influence, a blog that shares food stories, recipes, and photography. Reflecting a love for meshing global flavours and South Asian aesthetics, Jessie explores culture and identity through food. Find more food stories at indianinfluence.ca.