Though my husband dutifully loves and eats everything I cook, I’m fairly certain he would prefer it all with a little more cumin and a lot more garlic. Enter charmoula, a North African condiment composed of garlic, spices and fresh herbs. It’s fabulous, and can turn even the prissiest dish into certified man-food. Rarely do you see charmoula used in home kitchens (unlike the ubiquitous pesto) and I’m not sure why; the ingredients are few, the method is simple, and the flavor is downright explosive.
Charmoula can be used as a marinade for meat and fish or as a dressing for any number of grain and vegetable dishes (try it on potatoes!). In the recipe below, caramelized winter squash is tossed with nutty Sardinian couscous – a combination delicious in its own right, but brilliant once enlivened by pungent cumin and garlic, spicy paprika, and vibrant cilantro.
(As a side note, this being flu season and all, it's important to work raw garlic into your diet. Raw garlic contains selenium, an essential micronutrient for combatting the flu virus (Brazil nuts and whole grains are also wonderful sources). Charmoula, pesto, and hummus offer three tasty ways for getting your daily allowance!) - porktopurslane —Michelle McKenzie
Test Kitchen Notes
Fregola lends a hearty feel to this dish and we loved how the rich flavors of caramelized butternut squash and toasted pine nuts were balanced by the musky charmoula (made with cilantro, cumin, garlic, parsley, lemon zest, sweet and spicy smoked paprika and cayenne). There's a lot going on in this dish and all of it is good. Add the lemon juice to taste, and if pine nuts are expensive, feel free to substitute toasted walnuts or almonds. Roast a chicken, grilled some shoulder lamb chops or just make a nice big salad with some goat cheese, and a fine dinner will be yours. - A&M —The Editors
Preheat the oven to 475 F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
On a large sheet pan, toss butternut squash with about 2 tablespoons olive oil and a generous pinch of sea salt (make sure not to overcrowd the pan; use two pans if necessary). Roast squash for approximately 20-25 minutes or until tender and caramelized. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.
Cook fregola sarda in boiling water for 10-11 minutes, or until al dente. Drain and return to the pot; set aside and keep warm.
Meanwhile, in a small skillet over medium heat, toast cumin seeds for a minute or two – or until they release a fantastic smell and start to make a popping sound (keep an eye on them, so they don’t burn). Tranfer toasted cumin seeds to a mortar; add the garlic and a big pinch of sea salt. Pound cumin and garlic into a paste. Add chopped herbs in batches, and continue to pound until a chunky paste forms. Add paprika, cayenne, the zest of 1 lemon, and 4 tablespoons olive oil; stir to combine and set aside. (Alternatively, you could process all ingredients in a food processor.)
To the pot with the fregola, add the butternut squash, the juice of 2 lemons, the charmoula, and the toasted nuts. With a wooden spoon, toss gently to combine (avoid mashing the squash). Serve warm or at room temperature.
Michelle McKenzie is the author of Dandelion & Quince: Exploring the Wide World of Unusual Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs. Her second cookbook, The Modern Larder, is due to arrive in fall 2018 and will introduce home-cooks to a raft of new, flavor-packed pantry staples - e.g. shiso, ndjua, Job's Tears, and dozens of others - and incorporate them into over 200 wholesome recipes.