Tunisian Charmoula – a versatile recipe

After a very long time away from this blog, I felt that I needed to come up with an original recipe, one that doesn’t follow the lines of my previous posts. This particular one, is neither French nor Macedonian, it is not a recipe “a la minute”, but rather a ritual dish that can be stored for a while and used at many different occasions. It is called Charmoula or Chermoula and comes from Northern Africa. How do I know the recipe?One of the perks of living in an international city is that you meet cooks from all over the world. I recently met a girl that grew up in Tunisia, who kindly offered to share the secrets of this traditional dish with me. This particular Charmoula is a sweet marinade that is spread on a semolina bread and topped with dried and salted cod-fish. In the part of the country where her family is from – near Sfax – the tradition is to serve Charmoula on the first day after Ramadan.The two main ingredients are red onions and raisins. As for most recipes, knowing how to choose your ingredients can dramatically improve your final result. One of the first advices from my friend S. were ” buy small and rather dry onions and raisins”. The reason for that is – I should guess – the length of the cooking time. The ingredients are slowly – very slowly – melted in a frying pan, with olive oil, cloves, rose petals, and cayenne pepper. The process takes a few hours altogether, but your presence in front of the pan is much less long and the result is incredibly flavorful, buttery and well worth the effort. It literally melts in your mouth.

You can either spread it on bread and add a couple of slivers of salt-cod, or use it as a base for a sauce that would complement a fish or a meat dish (lamb for instance).

Charmoula sauce recipe :

Ingredients :

2 lbs red onions

3/4 cup olive oil (1st cold pressed, extra virgin)

1/2 pound red raisins

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tbsp rose petals

4 cloves

Steps :

1. Slice the red onions

2. Add halve of the olive oil in a large sautee pan and and stir fry the onions until the volume in the pan is divided by two. At this point stirring from time to time is enough. Add the rest of the olive oil and keep stirring until the onions caramelize (until they turn dark brown, but before they get burned).

3. While the onions are caramelizing toss the raisins in a blender and add one cup of water. Blend well.

4. Sieve the raisin juice.

5. Once the onions are caramelized (the process rakes about 1 1/2 hours but doesn’t require you to be present all the time), add the raisin juice and the spices to the onions.

6. Stir and let the mixture simmer for at least one hour (1 1/2 to 2 hours is better), stirring it from time to time.


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