I’ve long been fascinated by exotic spice blends: harissa, ras al hanout, dukkha and chermoula all conjure up far flung, mysterious places where women are draped in silks and the heady scents of spices waft through the air. The fact that you I’m more likely to find them in the fifth aisle of the supermarket is neither here nor there. I love to make my own harissa and dukka, and have a brilliant chermoula spice blend courtesy of Steenberg’s (who sell very good spices, if you’re interested), but I had never attempted my own version. Inspired by a friend visiting for lunch and armed with a little bit of research (always start with garlic and coriander as your base, apparently), I prepared this fragrant blend of delightful and probably not authentic spices: turmeric (for colour and earthy flavour), cumin, coriander, caraway (I love it), cinnamon, smoked paprika, garlic and chilli. It is simply a list of my favourite spices all blended together to make my new preferred multi-purpose marinade. Hurrah.
I’m convinced that it would be delicious as the spice base to a tagine, used to flavour roasted carrots and/or parsnips, sprinkled over roast chicken (a favourite) and as a marinade for pork tenderloin. This time, I’ve chose to make these delicious chermoula chicken kebabs. With the first peaks of spring beginning to show: warm mornings, the fresh scent of grass remerging, crocus and snowdrops in the wood. I wanted to make a lunch that crosses us over from winter sustenance to spring time pleasure. The heat and spice from the chermoula offers the warmth and body, while grilling the chicken as kebabs adds that slight hint of smokiness that makes me think of the lightness of spring and the smell of woodsmoke drifting on the breeze. I like to serve it with a bowl of rice or quinoa, chopped avocado, sweet tomatoes and a generous amount of coriander. Completely authentic it may not be but it is seriously delicious and incredibly quick and simple - do try it.
You will need pre-soaked (to stop them catching fire) wooden skewers for this recipe
For the chermoula
½ tsp turmeric
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp caraway seeds
1 clove of garlic, crushed
½ tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp soft brown sugar
¼ tsp cinnamon
2 tsp smoked paprika
The juice of 1 lemon
3 tbsp groundnut oil
8 chicken thighs, boneless and skinless
A generous bunch of coriander
Heat a small frying pan and dry fry the cumin, coriander and caraway seeds until lightly golden and releasing their fragrant scent. Remove from the heat and using a pestle and mortar, grind until a fine powder. Mix together the ground, toasted spices with the remaining herbs spices, sugar, lemon juice, garlic and oil, season well and mix until combined.
Slice each chicken thigh widthways into 2 – 3 strips depending on their size. Combine the chermoula and chicken in a sealable freezer bag, squeeze out any air, seal the bag and then massage the marinade into the meat through the bag before leaving to marinate for 2 – 3 hours or overnight. You can at this point, depending on how long you intend to marinate the chicken, put the wooden skewers into soak so that they are ready for grilling.
Preheat the grill to medium – high. When ready, thread the chicken pieces onto the skewers and place under the grill, cook for around 8 -12 minutes, turning the chicken regularly, until cooked through and starting to brown on the edges. Serve immediately with torn leaves of fresh coriander.