One of the best things about living in a strange place for a long time is getting to know not only its dominant, namesake cuisine, but all the other little cuisines that make up the culinary mosaic of the neighborhood. New York is the perfect example of this. What is New York cuisine? An old, terrific, dark-wood steakhouse, maybe. But that is hardly representative of New York. Instead, I grew up on great plates of Italian pasta, broccoli in black bean sauce from the Chinese takeout, and avocado rolls from my neighborhood sushi place. In London, I have discovered great Bangladeshi food. And in France, historical conquests and waves of immigration have brought us my personal favorite, Moroccan.
Moroccan is my personal favorite because my Mémé, my grandmother, was born in Casablanca and moved to France as a teenager. What I love about France and Morocco is the two-way street that seems to arch like a great bridge over Spain. Mémé already spoke French, and was used to French fashions and customs, when she arrived in Europe, because they were so prevalent in Morocco. And when I am in France, I find that Moroccan cuisine, like Mémé, must have booked a one-way ticket to Paris, because it is everywhere, from the merguez-frites stands, Paris's answer to New York's hot dog-on-the-go, to refined establishment couscous houses.
Chermoula is a Moroccan condiment much like a salsa verde or chimichurri, generally served with fish, but I think it also pairs beautifully with red meats like grilled beef or lamb. The main flavor is fresh cilantro, with hints of onion, chilies, and garlic. Smoky cumin makes it indelibly North African. I take my cue here from the great seafood towers of old Paris brasseries, but instead of the usual Sauce Mignonette or other cocktail sauces, I substitute chermoula for a little something different. Peel-on shrimp are a great way to cut a fussy, fancy appetizer like shrimp cocktail down to size and keep it casual.
- 6 jumbo shrimp, shell on
- A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, plus 1/4 cup
- 1/2 bunch cilantro
- 1/2 bunch flat-leaf parsley
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 1/2 scallions (whites and greens)
- 1/2 jalapeno, seeded
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1/8 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/8 teaspoon paprika
- Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
Preheat the oven to 450°F.
Toss the shrimp with their shells on with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Arrange them on a baking sheet in a single layer, and roast for 6 to 8 minutes, until they have turned pink and have started to curl.
While the shrimp are roasting, make the chermoula. Roughly chop the cilantro, parsley, garlic, scallion, and jalapeno. Pulse them in the food processor with the lemon juice, olive oil, spices, and salt and pepper to taste until about the consistency of a pesto.