Eggplant and tomato. These are two flavors that go naturally together. You find this combination throughout Mediterranean cuisine. There’s a good reason for that, the flavors complement each other nicely. The slightly bitter flavor of the eggplant meets the slightly acidic flavor of the tomato. They go together to create a delight for the pallet. Today’s blog post shares a Moroccan combination of eggplant and tomato called zaalouk.
Often times when I decide on a story to write for the blog, I start with something I’m already familiar with. I am confident that somewhere else and Mediterranean cuisine there will be a variation on that dish that I haven’t explored before. Today it went the other way around. A while back I was looking at some video on YouTube. You know how they give you other suggested videos to look at, well there was one for a Moroccan dish I hadn’t heard of before, Zaalouk. Always curious about new foods I decided to take a look at it. I watched the video we decided that this was something that I need you to try.
So over the next several weeks I made zaalouk handful of times. I did more research, and found other variations of zaalouk I explored. Not surprisingly, I found that there is a wide array of ways to make this a look. Everybody has their own variation that makes it ‘the best’ or the ‘most authentic’. This approach is one of the things that I love about Mediterranean cuisine. Many of these dishes have been around for so long that people make the dish ‘their own’ and adapt it. So it turns out that every variation is in fact authentic. Authentic to regions, neighborhoods and families.
Back to zaalouk. I came to understand that it is a very common dish in Maroccan cuisine. Zaalouk can be served either hot and cold, depending on the season and use. I’ve tried it both ways, and maybe because it’s wintery here right now, I find I enjoy the hot version better. Perhaps this summer I cold better
As I said at the top of the post, eggplant and tomato are commonly matched in the Mediterranean. You can find the combination in an Italian caponata, a Turkish Soslu Patlican and a Lebanese maghmour. Perhaps more familiar to you would be eggplant Parmesan or moussaka. The point is, these flavors are great together so there is no reason not to give Zaalouk a try.
As I learned more about zaalouk, I found two recipes that I used as my guide posts. There’s this recipe here, and this one here, both of which help inform my recipe for zaalouk that I’m sharing today. Because I happen to like them, I decide to add a small zucchini to my zaalouk. Other vegetables that are popular additions to zaalouk include peppers and onions (which I also included). It is equally delicious just ’straight up’ with only the eggplant and tomato.
Zaalouk makes a great side dish. But it is very flexible and can be used for so much more. It is not uncommon to find zaalouk as a dip or part of a mezze platter. The Elegant Baker tells me it is also excellent on a nice piece of bread as a sandwich.
Tricks and Tips
The trickiest part of this dish in preparing the eggplant. You need to partially peel the eggplant first of all. You partially peel the eggplant because you want to strike the right balance between too much or too little skin. Too much skin will contribute too much bitterness to the final dish. To little, and you will completely loose any supporting structure for the eggplant. I peel the eggplant by peeling long vertical stripes in the skin. You will end up with a black and white striped eggplant just before you cube it.
Second, the dish is much better if you take the time to soak your cut eggplant in cool water with a little bit of salt. This helps to ‘rinse out’ some of the more bitter flavors in the eggplant. I generally don’t bother with this step in most dishes. I find that it hasn’t made a huge difference in the finished dish. This zaalouk recipe is the exception. You absolutely want to take this step. I made my zaalouk both ways — eggplant soaked, and ‘straight up’. I defiantly preferred the soaked version. The flavor was much less dense and almost (not quite though) sweet.
Once the eggplant is soaked, this dish becomes very easy to finish. Use a big enough skillet to hold all the eggplant and tomato. Recognize that it will reduce in volume while cooking, so a slightly too small pan at the outset isn’t a big deal. Using your selected pan, cook the tomato until it begins to soften. Add your spices, and bloom them with the tomato.
Mashing Makes it Smooth
If adding other vegetables, add them here. Let everything soften for several minutes. Then, using the back of a slotted spoon or a potato masher, go ahead and mash the dish and all the vegetables together. The more you mash, the smoother the zaalouk will be. Some like ti super silky smooth. Others like it with a bit of texture to it. I fall in the second group, so I only mashed mine so far until I reached the consistency that I like.
Finish with a splash of lemon juice (I used sherry vinegar) and salt and pepper to taste. That’s it. Serve hot or cold — doesn’t really matter – it’s your choice.
So after seeing the video for zaalouk, I am glad that I gave it a try. It had definitely become a part of our regular side dish rotation. It is easy, delicious, quick, heathy and inexpensive. Everything that you look for it food, you get in zaalouk. Give it a try! When you do, please drop a comment below letting me know what you think!
Zaalouk – Moroccan Eggplant and Tomato Salad
- 1 medium to large eggplant about 6 cups when cubed
- 2 large tomatoes about 3 cups diced
- 1 small zucchini about 2 cups diced
- 1/2 cup onion chopped
- 3 TBS extra virgin olive oil
- 2 large cloves garlic minced
- 1/4 cup onion finely diced
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes or to taste
- 1/4 cup parsley chopped
- Juice of one lemon or sherry vinegar
- Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
- Peel 4 stripes on the skin of the eggplant
- Remove the top, and dice into 1” cubes
- Place the eggplant cubes in a large bowl, sprinkle with kosher salt and cover with fresh water
- Set aside for 30 minutes to an hour
- Halve the tomatoes and remove the seeds
- Dice the seeded tomatoes in a large dice (1/2” – 3/4”)
- Dice the courgette similar sized to the tomatoes
- Once the eggplant has finished soaking, drain and set aside.
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat
- Add tomatoes and onions. Cook until tomatoes begin to soften, stirring often
- Add the garlic, paprika, cumin, and red pepper flakes and stir to combine
- When the spices begin to smell fragrant, add the eggplant, courgette, and parsley
- Stir to combine
- Reduce heat to medium low, cover, and cook for 20 minutes or until vegetables are all soft
- Remove the lid, and using the back of a spoon or potato masher, mash the eggplant, tomato and courgette
- Add the lemon juice (or sherry vinegar), salt and pepper and stir to combine
- Simmer uncovered until all the liquid has evaporated
- Serve hot, warm, or cold as a side, salad or mezze