Most of us have never heard of zaalouk. Let alone been to Morocco to eat this traditional dish. I tell ya, it's mind-blowingly delicious, and North African food at its finest. You'll be hooked from the first bite once you taste it. No doubt.
Zaalouk is basically a supercharged version of baba ganoush. It's the perfect summer appetizer to make with eggplants, otherwise known as aubergines.
Charred and mixed with sweet summer tomatoes, warming Moroccan spices like cumin and smoked paprika and fresh herbs, there really is no better way to enjoy these seasonal vegetables.
My favourite thing about it is the simplicity yet tons of flavour that come with it. Something we often find in North African cuisine.
The best zaalouk needs the be creamy, smokey, well balanced and rich. The perfect dip to scoop up with flatbreads.
Recipes differ from region to region, and family to family. Everyone has their own slight variation and unique way of making it.
Some people make it by frying the eggplant, while others roast it whole on the fire, or in the oven. Giving the aubergines that warm smokey flavour.
This recipe will look at how to best prepare the eggplant and tomatoes before layering the flavours with those warming spices, perfect seasoning, fresh herbs, and olive oil.
What you get, is an extremely versatile and delicious dish you can serve on any occasion, from breakfast, all the way through to supper.
The ingredients needed to make zaalouk are very humble, yet they are also very seasonal.
As mentioned before, this is a great way to use eggplant. Eggplant is somewhat of a mystery vegetable when it comes to knowing what to cook with it.
- Eggplant(aubergine) - Use medium-sized seasonal varieties. Large and old eggplants are too watery.
- Tomatoes - It's always best to use fresh sweet summer produce. If you can't find good sweet ones then use good quality chopped tinned varieties like San Marzano.
- Lemon - Fresh lemon or lime. The citrus plays a key role in balancing the flavours.
- Spices - Smoked paprika and cumin. Get the best quality you can find. They're used sparingly and should be potent. If you get bad spices or use old ones then the flavour will not be as good and you might end up adding spices to make up for the flavour loss, but it won't work. Instead, it will make the whole thing bitter. So, get the best.
- Herbs - I used chopped parsley but you can easily use cilantro, dill or basil too.
- Garlic - Buy good young juicy whole garlic. Pre-chopped will not work.
Prepare the tomatoes
- Cut a shallow cross on the smooth end of the tomatoes.
- Bring a kettle or pot of water to a boil. Lower them into the boiling water, making sure they are fully submerged. Let them boil for 10 seconds.
- Remove and dip into iced or cold running tap water until cool.
- Peel away the skin.
- Quarter them and scoop out the seeds
- Place the seeds into a sieve. The juice around them is very high in naturally occurring MSG. Umami in other words and we want to save that. You can save this for later, freeze it for longer storage or use it straight away in a recipe.
- Press the seeds until all the juice is out. Discard the dry seeds.
- You now have petals of tomato ready to dice or slice.
- Chop into whatever shape is called for. In this case large natural dice.
- Once chopped it can be stored in the fridge(up to 4 days) for later use if you are not planning to use it straight away.
Roast the eggplant
If you are lucky enough to have a bbq at hand then I would suggest roasting the aubergines whole on there.
Roasting it on the fire gives it extra smokiness. You could also do this in a pizza oven or tandoor if you have access to one of those.
Otherwise, we will bake it in a piping hot oven. Like I did.
- Start by cracking the oven up to 250°C or 482°F. Put the eggplant on a baking tray and place it into the oven for about 20 minutes.
- They should be completely soft and cooked all the way through. Be careful when handling them as they give off quite a bit of steam.
- Cut them in half and scoop out the flesh.
- Cut up into random sized smaller pieces. It can now be used straight away or you can store it in the fridge for up to 4 days or 6 months in the freezer.
Make the zaalouk
- Heat a skillet with oil until it just starts to smoke. The eggplant and tomatoes are still a touch wet and we want to condense that all into a homogenous creamy chunky stew.
- Once the skillet is hot, turn the heat to medium and add the eggplant along with the garlic. Stir for a few minutes taking care not to burn it.
- Next, add the tomatoes along with the juice if you used them fresh. Let it stew for a few minutes until they break up a bit. You can also use a potato masher to help the process along.
- Add the spices along with the salt and sugar. Stir often and fry a bit longer.
- When it's ready it's should be not wet but nice and creamy. You'll know when it's ready.
- Give it a taste and adjust the seasoning if you want. Add lemon juice to taste along with the chopped herbs. Let it cool down to room temperature before drizzling with plenty of olive oil, adding some more herbs and freshly cracked black pepper.
Serve with flatbread or flour tortillas along with optional dukkah or za'atar seasoning for the most delicious yet simple experience.
For a classic trick. Store in the fridge and serve the next day. Lots of food is better the next day. Zaalouk is one of those. It can be stored in the fridge for up to 5 days no problem. You can also freeze it for longer storage.
Zaalouk is a naturally vegan and gluten-free dish. It's super healthy as is and is mostly enjoyed as starter/salad of sorts. You can modify it though, to include meat, fish or seafood. Even add more veggies or spice it up! Let's look at a few options:
- Adding protein - Add in some chicken, shrimp, octopus, calamari or minced beef or lamb. The resulting dish will be more of a stew and I suggest you serve it warm as a main course.
- Eggplant - You can dice the aubergine and fry it in a pan instead of roasting it in the oven. Do it skin on or skin off. the resulting texture will be more chunky but delicious nonetheless.
- Make it even healthier - Double-up on an already healthy dish by adding chopped steamed spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potato, lentils or chickpeas. Make sure to cook the lentils and chickpeas before or use tinned versions.
- Adding more spice - Some like it hot. I do too. Add some chilli or simply a bit more warmth with cinnamon or garam masala. Be careful though as adding too many spices can change the flavour of the dish dramatically.
I like serving zaalouk at dinner parties, informal gatherings, at any meal of the day or when hosting a North African themed event. Let's look at other dishes you can serve it with:
- With crusty bread like homemade sourdough, baguettes or soft flour tortillas.
- As a snack at family events like a bbq where other dishes like crispy pork belly, roasted fish or lamb chops normally take centre stage.
- As an appetizer before having roasted leg of lamb or Persian lamb koftas.
- Alongside other snacky type dishes like this green pea and feta dip, or these roasted Romano peppers with mascarpone. Or maybe as a snack for tortilla chips instead of the usual guacamole when having sunset snacks with wine and marinated olives.
- Amazing with other side dishes like creamed spinach, mashed potatoes or Moroccan spiced couscous.
Frequently asked questions
Zaalouk varies in texture from chunky to smooth. The choice is yours and there is no right or wrong texture. For best results keep the texture slightly coarse but not too chunky and not too smooth. In the middle is perfect.
Not recommended for this recipe but you can boil, steam or poach eggplant for other recipes where it requires a secondary cooking like glazing, grilling or frying.
Tomatoes can make the dish too sour especially if the type used is too acidic. Simply balance the flavour with your favourite sweetener. This can be regular sugar or if you are following a low sugar diet use stevia.
Make sure to roast the eggplant at maximum heat or dry roast it in a skillet for a natural smokey eggplant flavour. Otherwise, use good quality smoked paprika or add a touch of natural smoke liquid.
Seal airtight and store in the fridge for up to 4 days.
For longer storage, it can be frozen for up to 6 months.
Yes, If you want to warm it up simply do so in a small pot, pan or microwave.
Useful equipment for this recipe
Other recipes you might like
- Sweet miso Eggplant
- Easy side dishes for barbecue
- Oven-dried cherry tomatoes
- Classic Caesar salad
- Simple burst cherry tomato pasta
- Authentic Greek salad
- Georgian salad
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Zaalouk - Moroccan Roasted Eggplant And Tomato Salad/Dip
- 2 (2 ) eggplants - note 3
- 5 (5 ) sweet tomatoes - medium sized - note 4
- 4 g (1 teaspoon) cumin powder - note 5
- 4 g (1 teaspoon) smoked paprika - note 5
- 20 g (2 ½ tablespoon) garlic - chopped or minced - note 6
- 80 g (⅜ cups) olive oil - extra virgin
- 10 g (2 ½ tablespoon) parsley - chopped - note 7
- 5 g (1 tablespoon) mint - chopped - note 7
- 6 g (1 teaspoon) salt
- 6 g (1 ½ teaspoon) sugar - note 8
- juice of 1 lemon
For the eggplant
- Roast in the oven at 250°C or 482°F until soft. Takes about 20 minutes. If it needs longer, give it longer. the eggplant needs to be fuly cooked and soft.
- When cooked remove the flesh and roughly chop it up. Set aside until needed.
For the tomatoes(optional step. You can also chop the tomatoes whole seeds and all. It's just more rustic.)
- Blanch, peel and deseed the tomatoes. Press the juice from the seeds by rubbing through a sieve. Dice into large pieces and set aside along with the juice.
Cooking the zaalouk
- Heat a skillet with oil until it just starts to smoke. The aubergine and tomatoes are still watery and we want to condense that all into a homogenous creamy chunky stew.
- Once the skillet is hot, turn the heat to medium and add the eggplant along with the garlic. Cook and stir for a few minutes taking care not to burn it.
- Next, add the tomatoes along with the juice if you used fresh tomatoes. Let it stew for a few minutes until they start breaking up a bit.
- Add the spices along with the salt and sugar. Cook a bit longer.
- When it's ready it's should not be wet but nice and creamy. You'll know when it's ready.
- Give it a taste and adjust the seasoning if you want. Add the lemon juice little by little according to your taste along with the chopped herbs. Let it cool down to room temperature.
- Storage instructions - Once made you can store it airtight in the fridge for up to 4 days or for up to 6 months in the freezer. To reheat simply do so in a pot, pan or microwave.
- Tip - These types of dishes are always better eaten the next day.
- Tomatoes - You can use tinned tomatoes but sweet seasonal varieties work best. Make sure to adjust the acidity by adding sugar to your taste.
- Eggplant - Use firm good quality eggplants. Oversized hollow feeling eggplant will lose a lot of water and not add much flavour.
- Spices - For best results toast your own cumin and grind in a spice grinder. Smoked paprika is not traditionally used but it does make the dish better. Highly recommended.
- Garlic - You can leave out the garlic or replace it with roasted garlic instead.
- Herbs - You can use whatever herbs you want. Try tarragon, chervil, dill and chicves.
- Sugar - The taste needs to be balanced as the tomatoes will give acidity. Use whatever sweetener you prefer. Sugar, honey, stevia all work.