Israeli Chermoula (sort of like pesto) with Chermoula Stuffed Vegetables and Quinoa ‘Tabbouleh’ with Chermoula

Makes about 1 cup of chermoula
Vegan and Paleo; no gluten, dairy, egg, soy or other legumes, potato or tomato

No wonder the people of the Mediterranean have such great health statistics – as well as so many diners eager for their classic dishes.

Chermoula is an Arabic word used to describe a North African fresh herb, lemon, olive, nut and spice mixture used as a marinade or topping for fish, meat or vegetables. My hearty version was inspired by reading the sigh-inducing and internationally popular cookbook Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. The book is also a touching memoir by these two men who lived in the western and eastern parts of the city and met later in London. These districts have been embattled with each other, but the authors say the food and hospitality practices, culturally unify them. 

Although this is a vegan dish, serve it with my suggested accompaniments for such full spectrum contrasts and pleasure that most people won’t notice the absence of animal foods. Try Chermoula Stuffed Eggplant as below with salad and my (You’ll-Never-Go-Back-to-Commercial) Hummus. Or enjoy Quinoa Tabbouleh with Chermoula, plus salad and Hummus. Or for more or hungrier people, serve the eggplant dish, salad and hummus with a side of plain quinoa or rice. Or – if wheat and gluten are fine – more traditionally with couscous, barley or pita bread.

For a dinner party I served Hummus as a starter with sesame rice crackers, raw carrot and cucumber. Followed with Chermoula Stuffed Eggplant, plain quinoa, and a salad of shucked chunks of steamed corn, chilli, red onion, red pepper and aioli. For dessert there were parfait glasses of Tropical Lime Ice Cream layered with strawberries. On the side were two squares of Chocolate Nut Fudge. Everyone raved about the symphony of flavours – and no one noticed that all 3 courses were vegan.

¼ cup walnuts
¼ cup currants
¼ cup mint
¼ cup fresh coriander (cilantro)
¼ cup black olives
1 large clove garlic
¼ cup lemon juice
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil*
1 tsp sea salt with kelp*
1 tsp smoked paprika*
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp ground coriander

Remove the pits from the olives. On a chopping board place the walnuts, currants, mint, coriander, olives and garlic. Use a curved mezzaluna or other large knife to finely chop all the ingredients together. This is an important and meditative step to truly blend the flavours. In a small to medium bowl combine the remaining ingredients: lemon, oil, salt, paprika, cumin, coriander. Stir in the walnut mixture.

Use to stuff vegetables (as follows), or in quinoa tabbouleh (as follows), or as a pesto-like topping for pasta, steamed fish, grilled meat; or fish, meat or kebabs cooked on the BBQ.

Chermoula Stuffed Eggplant or other Vegetables   serves 3-4
When shopping, choose eggplants that are firm, dark and unwrinkled. There is no need to peel or pre-salt eggplant. The desired end result with most eggplant dishes is to have the inner flesh cooked until very soft and dark.

Chermoula recipe as above
2 small dark eggplants about 250 grams each (about ½ pound)
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil*
salt and pepper
about 2 Tbsp tahini*
fresh coriander

Prepare the chermoula as above. Slice the top off the eggplants. Slice each in half lengthwise. On the cut side use a sharp knife to deeply slice the white flesh (leave the skin intact) on an angle at about 3cm intervals. Then slice again at an angle in the other direction. This will create a criss-cross pattern so the chermoula can enter for maximum penetration.

Spread 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large, heavy fry pan that can hold all four eggplant halves. Dip a pastry brush into the oil and brush over the 4 cut sides. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Place cut side down into pan. Cover and cook over low heat for about 15 minutes until that side is browned and softened. Turn over the eggplant so the cut side is up. Continue to cook while evenly distributing the chermoula on top, and as possible pushing it inside the cuts. Leave the lid off and cook a further 5 minutes or more until the inner flesh of the eggplant is completely soft and dark.

Serve hot, though any left overs are also good at room temperature or cold. Place on a serving platter, as is or slice. Check that your tahini is well mixed. If separated, use a table knife to combine the solid and oily parts. Using a tablespoon, drizzle tahini in a zigzag pattern over each eggplant portion. Top with fresh coriander sprigs.

• Instead of eggplant use whole large mushroom caps, or lengthwise halved peppers or courgette. Or par-bake pumpkin wedges and top. Adjust cooking time.

• Add 100 grams lamb mince to chermoula. Cook as above except leave lid on for 3 minutes to help cook lamb, then remove lid for the remaining 2 minutes.

Quinoa ‘Tabbouleh’ Salad with Chermoula

serves 2-3 as a main; 4 as a side salad

Tabbouleh is an Arabic salad from the regions in and around Lebanon. Classically it contains bulgur (cracked wheat) or couscous (steamed wheat granules), lemon juice, olive oil and lots of parsley. Regional variations include tomato, cucumber, garlic, onion and mint. Tiny pearls of quinoa approximate the shape and texture well. Serve this at room temperature or cold. When entertaining, this salad suits being made in advance – easing your time while flavours mingle to advantage. Serve mounded on a platter and surround with the bright colours of raw seasonal vegetables.

For added protein as a one-dish main include Hummus, hard boiled egg, feta, cooked fish or meat. If you like the heat, add 1 finely chopped chilli when cooking the quinoa. NOTE: if you want a plain quinoa side dish, hot or cold, finish cooking as below and while hot stir in 2 tsp sea salt with kelp*.

Chermoula recipe as above
1 cup quinoa*
2 cups water
cucumber slices
tomato slices or cooked beetroot
Optional Proteins: cooked legumes such as chickpeas; hard boiled egg; feta; tinned or smoked fish; cooked lamb or chicken

Place quinoa and water in a medium saucepan (add optional chilli). Cover and bring to a boil. Boil 7-10 minutes until only a thin film of water remains on top. Turn off the heat and allow to sit undisturbed for 5 minutes or more until all the water has been absorbed. Uncover and allow to cool until at room temperature (or cover and cool in fridge). Once completely cool, stir in Chermoula. Serve or cover and chill up to 1 hour.

Place in a mound on a large serving platter. Surround with raw or cooked vegetables and optional proteins.

Shopping and Preparation Tips*

• Olive Oil: extra virgin olive oil is achieved by using cold mechanical pressure rather than the high heat and chemical solvents typical to most supermarket oils. These practices damage oils and the people who eat them. For information on which fats to choose for which purpose and why, see my article on the TIPS page: The Fats of Life.

• Paprika: only use top quality smoky, sweet Spanish paprika such as La Chinata. This is usually sold in small decorative tins in the supermarket. Ordinary paprika is usually stale, pale and without the punchy vigour this contributes to dishes.

• Quinoa: (pronounced ‘keen-wah’) is a seed from Peru: high protein and fibre, low-starch; good source of manganese, magnesium, folate, flavonoids, some Omega 3 and other anti-inflammatory factors. It has a mild nutty taste; resembles and is used like a grain such as rice. Many people who are grain-sensitive can do well on quinoa as it is not a member of the grass family. Whole quinoa (looks like millet) and flaked quinoa (resembles rolled oats) are in most supermarkets. Use 1 part rinsed quinoa to 2 parts water or stock. Cover, boil and cook like rice for 12-15 minutes.

• Sea salt: is sea water dehydrated by sun. When mixed with seaweed or kelp (containing iodine and other minerals low in our soil) it is ideal in terms of flavour (interesting but not too strong) and mineral balance. Try Pacific Harvest or Malcolm Harker brands; both in health and gourmet stores. NOTE these are less salty in taste than other brands. Ordinary salt is taken from mines or sea and so highly refined over extreme heat that it contains nothing but sodium chloride. All other minerals are stripped away, such as potassium and magnesium which help regulate fluid balance and blood pressure. Bleach as a whitener and chemicals to prevent clumping may be added to table salt.

• Tahini: is a paste – like runny peanut butter – made from ground sesame seeds and possibly added oil. It is available in jars in supermarkets. Referring to the processing of the seeds, it may be labelled ‘unhulled’ which has a bitter taste (traditionally for East Asian cooking), or ‘hulled’ which has slightly lower nutrient levels but a milder flavour (this is a Middle Eastern staple such as used in hummus). Try on crackers, toast and baked vegetables. As with nut butters, store in the refrigerator.

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