Pumpkin Chershi recipe, A Spicy Libyan Spread

Chershi (sometimes spelled chirshi or tershi)
Chershi (sometimes spelled chirshi or tershi) is the main reason why all gardens should plant pumpkins.

First of all, what’s chershi? If you’ve been lucky enough to sit down at a meal from Libyan cuisine, you’ll find that among the usual mezze – small plates of humus, vegetables cooked in olive oil, potato salad, tabbuleh – there will be  an orange-colored dip with intriguing spicy, garlicky flavors. It’s chershi kara’a, a creamy pumpkin spread that takes the sweet vegetable to a whole different level. Sometimes called tershi, it’s a specialty of Tripoli Jews. And especially nice, it’s also a vegan dish.

Many insist that the spread be based on pumpkin, and pumpkin only, but others, not so purist, use butternut squash, sometimes combined with carrots, to delicious effect. So how do you eat chershi? Tear a corner off a fresh pita and dip it into the chershi – as you do with humus. Garnish couscous with chershi. Spoon some on to your plate and top it with a little yogurt and finely-sliced scallions, replenishing as your appetite dictates. Or spread it between slices of bread to enrich any sandwich.

Note: The traditional recipe calls for powdered caraway seed, but if you don’t have it, you can leave it out. But if you have a mortar and pestle, or a coffee grinder, you can easily crush a couple of tablespoons of caraway seeds and store the excess in a small glass jar or small bag with a zipper top. It’ll last longer in a glass jar.

Here’s the traditional recipe.

Chershi Pumpkin Spread
2 cups – 500 grams peeled pumpkin (fine to use canned)
2 -4 cloves garlic, crushed to a paste
1/4 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons vinegar
1/2 teaspoon powdered caraway seed
1/2 teaspoon crushed chili pepper
6 tablespoons olive oil
Chop the pumpkin into large dice.
Heat 4 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the pumpkin.
Cover the skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
When the pumpkin is tender, remove it from the heat and mash it with a fork or potato masher.
In a clean skillet, gently heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil; add the garlic and chili pepper until the garlic has changed color but hasn’t browned.
Mix the garlic/chili into the cooked pumpkin.
Return the pumpkin to low heat. Cook, stirring, 10 minutes.
Add the vinegar and salt; cook a further 15 minutes.
Add the powdered caraway and mix well.
Serve at room temperature.Variations:
Use canned pumpkin.
Add 3 tablespoons harissa to the mashed pumpkin before adding the remaining seasonings.
Add 1 teaspoon powdered cumin to the garlic/chili. In that case, omit the caraway seed at the end.
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