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 it's 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 cook when eggplants - otherwise known as aubergines - are in season along with sweet summer tomatoes.
My favourite thing about it is the simplicity yet tons of flavour that come with it. Something we often find in humble cuisines. In my opinion, 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 variations and unique way of cooking it.
Some people make it by frying the eggplant, while others bake it whole on the fire, or in the oven. Giving the aubergines that warm smokey flavour.
In this recipe, we will look at how to best prepare the eggplant and tomatoes before layering the flavours with warming spices, perfect seasoning, fresh herbs and olive oil.
What you get, is an extremely versatile and delicious dish you can serve at any occasion, from breakfast, all the way through to supper.
The ingredients needed to cook this are very humble, yet they are also very seasonal. As mentioned before, this is a great way to use eggplant. Tomatoes will always find a place on our plates, but aubergines are 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 will be very watery and you will lose a lot on trying to evaporate the water later.
- Tomatoes - It's always best to use fresh sweet summer tomatoes. If you can't find good sweet ones then use good quality chopped tinned tomatoes like San Marzano.
- Lemon - Fresh lemon or lime. The citrus plays a key role in balancing the flavours.
- Seasoning - I use salt in the actual dip and then freshly cracked black pepper as a finishing touch when serving.
- 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 - Try and buy good young juicy whole garlic.
We will prepare the tomatoes and eggplant first and then cook the whole lot together. Below is how to prepare the tomatoes if you are using fresh and also how to roast and prepare the aubergine.
If using tinned tomatoes then skip to the aubergine prep. If you feeling lazy but have fresh tomatoes then just chop them up whole and use that way. I've done it like that before and it's fine. Just more rustic.
How to prepare the tomatoes
Blanching peeling and de-seeding tomatoes is a basic skill that chefs and home cooks alike should know how to do. Below is a simple step-by-step guide.
- Cut a shallow cross on the smooth end of the tomatoes.
- Bring a kettle or pot of water to the boil. Lower the tomatoes into the pot or pour boiling water all over them, making sure they are fully submerged. Let them sit in the boiling or hot water for 15 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 on cooking with it straight away.
How to prepare the eggplant
If you are lucky enough to have a bbq at hand then I would suggest roasting the aubergines whole on there.
Cooking 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 250C or 482F. Put the eggplant on a baking tray and place 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.
How to make the zaalouk
Once we have our roasted eggplant(aubergine) and tomatoes sorted, it's time to bring it home by stewing down on the stove. I used a cast-iron skillet but you can use pretty much anything that will fit the ingredients and handle the heat.
- Heat a skillet with oil until it just starts to smoke. The aubergine and tomatoes are still a touch 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 went down the fresh tomatoes route. Let it stew for a few minutes until the tomatoes start breaking up a bit.
- Add the spices along with the salt and sugar. Stirry-Stirry and cook a bit longer.
- When it's ready it's should be not watery 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.
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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.
- Cooking the aubergine differently - You can dice the aubergine and fry in a pan instead of roasting in the oven. Do it skin on or skin off. the resulting texture will be more chunky but delicious none the less.
- 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 already cooked 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 massala. 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:
- 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.
- Works amazing with other side dishes like creamed spinach, mashed potatoes or Moroccan spiced couscous.
Other recipes you might like
If you like comfort food with big flavour you will love the following dishes.
- Coconut chicken curry
- Shrimp Massaman Thai Curry
- Filipino beef adobo
- Classic Caesar salad
- Authentic Greek salad
Useful equipment for this recipe
Cast iron skillet - Buy Now
Wooden chopping board - Buy Now
Japanese knife - Buy Now
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