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What Is Chermoula Sauce?

Have you just been introduced to chermoula? Perhaps you’ve seen it in a recipe somewhere or maybe on the menu at a restaurant? Perhaps you’re even traveling. Either way, chances are you want to know what exactly chermoula sauce is and what it tastes like (if you didn’t taste it already). Perhaps, you’ll even get inspired to learn how to make it…or find out where to buy it!

So, what is chermoula sauce? Chermoula is a sauce made with fresh herbs, lemon, olive oil, chili, garlic, paprika, and sometimes cumin, saffron, onions, and ginger. It has a refreshing, herby taste with a bit of heat and can be used both as a dipping sauce and marinade. 

This is a sauce with origins in Northern Africa, where it can be found in several countries there. 

But it has since become popular and is now usually associated with Morocco. 

It’s important to note that different countries have different versions of chermoula, and it is sometimes spelled as charmoula, too. Just be mindful of that. It’s the same sauce.

With this in mind, let’s find out a bit more about its uses, various recipes, and similar sauces.

What Is Chermoula Sauce Made Of?

While different countries have different takes on chermoula sauce, the traditional Moroccan version tends to contain cilantro, parsley, chili, paprika, lemon, garlic, and olive oil. Sometimes ginger, cumin, mint, onions, and/or saffron are added.   

In the Western world, people usually refer to the Moroccan version of chermoula, which contains the above-mentioned ingredients. 

Sometimes people use smoked paprika instead of paprika, and in Morocco, it’s common to used preserved instead of fresh lemons. 

You can make chermoula the traditional way, using a pestle and mortar, or the modern way, using a blender

If you use the pestle and mortar, be sure to chop up the herbs first. 

As some people can’t stand the taste of coriander, you can always try making a version of chermoula without it. 

Likewise, if you’re sensitive to raw garlic, or onion, you can quickly boil it before you add it to the sauce. 

That way, you get rid of the sharpness of the taste. Just don’t over-boil it! It should still be crunchy. 

Chermoula is used both as a dipping sauce and a marinade. 

You can even try mixing it with some mayo for a creamy dipping sauce (just use less olive oil in that case). 

Recipe Option One for Chermoula Sauce

  • 1 Cup fresh parsley, ends trimmed
  • 1 Cup fresh cilantro, ends trimmed
  • 1 to 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 Tsp coriander (ground)
  • 1 Tsp red pepper flakes
  • ½ Tsp paprika 
  • ½ Tsp ground ginger
  • ¼ Tsp saffron threads, optional
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1 Lemon, juice, and zest
  • ¾ Cup extra virgin olive oil

For full instructions, look here

Recipe Option Two for Chermoula Sauce 

  • 3/4 Tsp coriander seeds
  • 3/4 Tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 Garlic cloves
  • ¾ Cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ Tsp finely grated lemon zest
  • ¼ Cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tsp smoked paprika
  • ¾ Tsp kosher salt
  • ¼–½ Tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 Cup (packed) cilantro leaves with tender stems
  • 1 Cup (packed) parsley leaves with tender stems
  • ½ Cup (packed) mint leaves

For full instructions, look here

Recipe Option Three for Chermoula Sauce 

  • 50g of coriander, roughly chopped
  • 20g of parsley, leaves picked and roughly chopped
  • 10g of garlic (about 2 medium cloves)
  • 35g of preserved lemon, halved and pips removed (about 1 medium lemon)
  • 80ml of olive oil
  • ½ Tsp flaky sea salt 
  • ¼ Tsp paprika 
  • ¼ Tsp cumin powder 
  • 1 Pinch of cayenne pepper 
  • 1 Lemon wedge, juiced to taste

Note: As you can see, this recipe calls for preserved lemons, which are popular in Morocco. You can make your own preserved lemons or buy them in a well-stocked store. 

For full instructions, look here

Recipe Option Four for Chermoula Sauce 

  • 1 Tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 Tbsp garlic roughly chopped, 1-2 cloves
  • ½ Tsp salt
  • 1 Tsp paprika
  • ½ Lemon juice
  • 3 Tbsp cilantro/coriander chopped
  • 3 Tbsp parsley chopped
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil

Note: This is one of the few recipes on this list that use the traditional pestle and mortar method of combining the ingredients–most other recipes call for blenders. That’s not to say you can’t use a blender, but should you have a pestle and mortar at hand, this would be a great recipe to try using the traditional method.  

For full instructions, look here

Recipe Option Five for Chermoula Sauce 

  • 1 Cup tightly packed fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 Cup tightly packed fresh cilantro (leaves and tender stems)
  • 4 medium garlic cloves
  • 1 Tsp lemon zest
  • 1 Tsp ground cumin
  • ¾ Tsp kosher salt
  • ½ Tsp ground coriander
  • ½ Tsp smoked paprika
  • ⅛ Tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • ½ Cup good quality olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice

Tip: Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. To prevent browning, drizzle a layer of olive oil on top of the sauce.

For full instructions, look here

Recipe Option Six for Chermoula Sauce

  • 1 Cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 Cup chopped parsley
  • 1 Serrano pepper chopped (optional, for spicy)
  • 1 Shallot chopped
  • 6 cloves of garlic (or more, as desired)
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 1 Tbsp cayenne powder
  • 2 Tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 Tsp cumin
  • Salt to taste
  • 8 Saffron threads (optional)
  • ½ Cup extra virgin olive oil (Use up to 1 cup as desired – you can also use other oils, such as canola oil)

For full instructions, look here

Regional versions of chermoula vary widely. 

In Tunisia, one variety comprises of raisins, olive oil, cloves, cumin, chili, black pepper, and cinnamon. 

There’s a Libyan version that calls for olives, tuna, and mixed green herbs. 

How so many different sauces have come to be called by the same name is somewhat incomprehensible, but weirder things have happened… 

What Does Chermoula Sauce Taste Like?

Chermoula sauce is a citrusy sauce, with heat coming from the garlic and chili/cayenne pepper. Herbs like coriander and parsley give it a strong herbal flavor, too. 

As no one recipe for chermoula is the same, the flavor profile varies accordingly. 

However, for traditional Moroccan chermoula, you can count on lemons giving it a citrusy flavor–whether you use preserved or fresh lemons. 

Most of the time, the sauce contains both coriander and parsley, which adds herbal notes. 

Then there’s the chili or cayenne pepper that adds heat, together with the garlic. 

Many recipes call for ginger, which will make the sauce stronger. 

Often, recipes for chermoula call for saffron, cumin, and paprika, which add flavoring to the sauce, too. 

And sometimes onions or shallots are used, which bring their distinct flavor to the sauce. 

Salt is commonly used in chermoula sauce, though if what you’re using to flavor with chermoula has already been salted, you better omit it! 

And if you’re trying to cut down on salt, then using sauces like chermoula that bring a lot of flavor without salt is an excellent idea. 

What Do You Eat Chermoula Sauce With?

Chermoula is excellent both as a dipping sauce and marinade and can be used for anything from vegetables to meat. However, originally it was likely used mainly for seafood. 

Chermoula is a versatile sauce. 

You can get away with using it for just about anything involving meat or vegetables, as well as fish. It works both as a dipping sauce and marinade. 

And you can sprinkle it over vegetables that you roast in the oven. 

Chermoula can also be used as salad dressing, or if you serve a side of cannellini beans, you can stir some sauce in to give them flavor. 

If you use a little less olive oil than normal for the sauce, you can stir it into mayo to create a creamy dipping sauce.

People have been known to stir chermoula into soups and stews–use your judgment for which soups and stews it would work well with! It’s definitively not its traditional use. 

Chermoula keeps for quite a while when kept in an airtight container in the fridge (so long as it’s properly covered in olive oil), so you have some time to experiment before making the next batch! 

What Is Similar To Chermoula Sauce? 

Most people tend to compare chermoula with chimichurri. However, chimichurri uses different herbs from chermoula and vinegar instead of lemon for acidity. Chermoula has also been likened to a sort of pesto, though it doesn’t contain nuts like a traditional pesto (though there’s no saying you couldn’t add some!).

Chimichurri

Chimichurri is the sauce most often compared to chermoula.

While chimichurri calls for parsley, olive oil, red pepper flakes, and garlic, just like chermoula, it contains red wine vinegar instead of lemon and oregano instead of coriander. 

Pesto

Some have likened chermoula to pesto, though the flavor profile is quite different. Pesto normally contains parmesan, pine nuts, basil, and olive oil. 

If you want to experiment with texture, however, there’s no saying you couldn’t add some walnuts or pinenuts to your chermoula sauce and see what happens!

Zhug 

Zhug is another popular sauce that is somewhat similar to chermoula–it usually contains chili, garlic, lemon, and olive oil. 

Once you start making chermoula, you might very well find yourself experimenting and coming up with other herbal sauces! 

Finally

Chermoula is a lovely lemony sauce continuing with flavorful herbs and spices. 

It’s a versatile sauce, and as it’s made with all-natural ingredients and contains a ton of herbs, I’d go as far as saying it’s healthy! It’s certainly tasty!

Why not make up a batch of chermoula and see for yourself? 

If you absolutely hate cooking, you may be able to find chermoula in a shop that carries Moroccan foods. 

Or, if you’re just keen to taste it, head to a Moroccan restaurant. It tends to feature somewhere on the menu.