Where the Sea Greens the Desert


Though the Sahara dominates North Africa, people living along its Mediterranean coast enjoy a lusher, milder climate and a more varied menu than do their inland cousins.  This truth applies particularly so to Algeria, where every village, in fact every family, has its own way of creating charmoula, a vivid spice blend that emphasizes flavor over heat.  When marinated accordingly, seafood pops, as it does in today’s submission, Shrimp Charmoula.

Alliums (broadly speaking, the onion family) naturally compliment shrimp, their bite elevating the shellfish’s sweetness.  This suits charmoula, as the marinade is well-supplied with leeks, shallots and garlic.  The shrimp swims, first in the sea and then in an ocean of greenery.

That’s not all, as paprika, both smoky and sweet, proclaim Spain’s influence, just to the north.  Charmoula uses paprika sparingly, but its presence is unmistakable, lending the dish a subtle hint of chorizo.  Just a fleeting glimpse, then the other flavors assert themselves.  Nonetheless, paprika contributes a definite smokiness.

Accompanying the Shrimp Charmoula today is North Africa’s signature bread, khobz.  This yeasty concoction is laced with sesame seeds and, in a personal but culturally appropriate choice, poppy seeds.  Khobz has elements of salt too, its slight brininess perfectly anticipating the shrimp.  Plus. it’s an ideal means of soaking up all that great charmoula sauce.

Khobz‘s recipe appears on Lands & Flavors, a great and wide-ranging site.  Meanwhile, instructions for Charmoula were found in Gourmet‘s February 2008 issue.   Though the magazine itself is long gone, the recipe survives on epicurious, among other places.

Of course, khobz is, strictly speaking, Moroccan, while Shrimp Charmoula hails from Algeria.  There is considerable culinary exchange between the two countries, and today’s combination is enjoyed across North Africa, not just in the two countries directly involved.  Also, careful observers will note the Moroccan dinnerware has served other entries.  Maybe so, but while this site’s imagination is boundless, its budget isn’t.

Besides, such thoughts quickly fade as sunlight dapples the pine-scented breeze, bringing salty hints of the azure Mediterranean.

*****

Shrimp Charmoula

  • 1 pound shrimp
  • 3 large shallots, finely chopped (*1)
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 leek, white and pale green parts only, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 fresh serrano chile, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika (*2)
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/8 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro, torn

Boil the shrimp in water until just cooked, two minutes.  Drain the shrimp and cool.

In a large skillet, cook the shallots in 2 tablespoons of the oil, stirring frequently until tender, about eight minutes.

Add the leek, garlic and chile and cook, stirring frequently, about five minutes.  Add the paprika and turmeric and cook, continuing to stir, for about two minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in lemon zest, lemon juice, cilantro, honey, 1/2 teaspoon salt and the remaining 1/4 cup of oil.

Put the shrimp in a large bowl and pour the sauce over it   Mix well so that shrimp is entirely coated.  Cover and chill for at least eight hours, to overnight.

Portion shrimp into individual servings and season to taste with salt.

NOTES:

1 – I love shallots, but this seems to be too much, even for me.  Instead, try two medium shallots.

2 – “Sweet” paprika is just another name for regular paprika.

*****

Khobz Kestra

(Moroccan Bread)

  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1 and 1/2 cups warm water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (*1)
  • 2 cup semolina flour (*2)
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
  • any herbs or spices you wish to add (*3)

Whisk the yeast into the warm water.  Add the olive oil and set aside.

Put the flours and salt into a mixer bowl.  After the yeast has bloomed for about ten minutes, add the water mixture to the flours and mix until dough is smooth and uniform, about three minutes.

Remove dough from the bowl and divide it into four equal parts.  Roll each part into a ball and let them sit for ten more minutes.

On a lightly-floured surface flatten each ball into a disc shape and place them on a baking sheet.  If you wish to add toppings, moisten each disk with water until it is just tacky and add them.

Cover the disks with a tea towel and let rise in a warm place for an hour.

Bake for 25 minutes in an oven preheated to 425 degrees.

Cool for fifteen minutes and serve.

NOTES:

1 – AP flour will do the job, but I used barley flour, recommended elsewhere.

2 – If you don’t have semolina, cornmeal will do.

3 – As mentioned above, I chose sesame and poppy seeds.  Really. the cook’s imagination is the only limit.  Other choices typical of North Africa would be flax seeds, ground pine nuts, cumin, or dried rosemary.  The possibilities continue…

2 thoughts on “Where the Sea Greens the Desert

  1. Punjab is far from any coastal areas, so I never really got the hang of seafood, but it sure looks good. Maybe it’ll change my mind…..
    Otherwise, it’s a lovely recipe.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s worth trying if it expands the universe of foods you enjoy. Seafood is a bit lighter and cleaner-tasting than are other land-based options, making it ideal for warmer months. It’s healthier too. Ideally, seafood is prepared with vegetables and spices whose flavor is assertive. Seafood is good enough by itself, but it buzzes when a good sauce accompanies it. If you decide to sample it, tell me what you think.

      Liked by 1 person

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