Zaalouk has become a staple whenever I serve a spread of meze (little bites). The way to enjoy it is to dip a piece of bread from a freshly baked loaf into it. It is tangy and slightly smoky as the eggplants would have been grilled until the skins were well charred. Then, it is simmered with tomatoes, browned onions, garlic, parsley, coriander and a mix of cumin, allspice and paprika. Delicious and a great alternative to conventional dips.

In the blog post preceding this one, I introduced the idea of serving a selection of ‘small bites’ before your main course as a sensible way of entertaining during year-end parties when you are more likely to cater to a larger group. Putting out a plate or two of small bites also serves as a means to buy you time to finish preparing the rest of your courses and to just free yourself somewhat from the kitchen. Read more on that in my introductory post, Meze, A Selection Of Wonderful Little BitesThis post then marks the start of my series on meze, little bites, finger foods, appetisers, hors d’oeuvres… whatever you like to call them. 

Zaalouk, Moroccan Grilled Eggplants And Tomatoes

Prep: 5 minutes 
Cook: 30 – 40 minutes 
Inactive: 10 minutes for grilled vegetables to cool
Level: Easy
Makes: ~3 cups
Oven Temperature:
Can recipe be doubled? Yes
Make ahead? Up to 3 days refrigerated.

Ingredients

1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil for some light sauteing
1 – 2 Tablespoons to drizzle over the Zaalouk before serving
1/3 cup onion, diced small
610g (1.3 lbs) eggplant/aubergine*
411g 14.5 oz canned diced tomatoes**
 4 garlic, minced
3 Tablespoon Italian parsley, cut finely (image below)
3 Tablespoon coriander, cut finely (image below)
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon paprika powder***
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon allspice powder (or you can substitute with cinnamon powder)*
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon salt
* I use the long slender purple coloured ones so that I don’t have to worry about bitterness or any extra large seeds.
** Most other recipes for Zaalouk will call for fresh tomatoes. Unfortunately, good fresh tomatoes are hard to come by locally. Unless you have access to premium tomatoes, buy premium canned tomatoes instead and you will get better results from those canned ones than the often ‘flavourless’ fresh ones.
*** Start with 1/4 teaspoon and adjust according to your preference.
* Start with 1/4 teaspoon and adjust according to your preference. Allspice is also referred to as Jamaican Pepper and I have seen it labelled as Pimento Berries. The berries look like dried juniper berries and are slightly larger than a black pepper seed (without the wrinkles). It taste like a mixture of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Conventional Zaalouk recipes do not ask for allspice powder but I like the extra flavour that it adds to my Zaalouk.

Method

1. Cut off the stalks from the eggplants.

2. Grill the eggplants until the insides are soft and the skins are charred all round.

3. Cool and peel back the blackened skins and use a spoon to scrape off all the bits of flesh from under the skins. Those slightly charred bits stuck there have the smokey flavour that you want. Cut the inner flesh into small chunks. Set aside.

4. Do use both coriander, the one on the left with the more delicate leaves and the Italian parsley, the one on the right. They do not taste quite the same and there is a nice balance of flavours when you use both coriander and Italian parsley. Cut finely and set aside.

Left: Coriander leaves. Right: Parsley

Let’s fry 

1. Add the 1 Tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil into a deep saucepan or pot. Saute the diced onions lightly to soften. Now add everything else in. Yes, everything. Easy isn’t it? Stir occasionally and break up the tomatoes and eggplants against the sides of the pot with a wooden spoon. Simmer on medium for 30 minutes.

2. After 30 minutes, the Zaalouk should look like the one I cooked pictured below. Taste to adjust the seasoning and to check that all the vegetables and herbs have softened. If it needs more cooking time, simmer for a further 5 to 10 minutes. Cool before serving.

To serve

1. Pour into a serving dish with a 1″ (2.5 cm) depth. Create a little well with the back of a spoon. Pour 1 – 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil into the well. Garnish if you like with coriander or parsley leaves. Serve with bread or be naughty and bring out the tortilla chips.

Tips

Please go ahead and cook this ahead
This is one of those dishes that taste just as well on the first day, the second day and even into the third day. So certainly consider making this in advance to lighten your cooking load.

Use canned tomatoes
To encourage you to use canned tomatoes (but they do have to be of a premium quality), I had cooked two separate lots of Zaalouk, one with fresh tomatoes and the other with canned tomatoes. My feature image of Zaalouk was cooked using canned tomatoes. It has a lovely fresh look to it and it taste as lovely as it looks. The Zaalouk that is featured on the table of meze was cooked with the best fresh tomatoes I could find locally (sadly they often fall short on flavour), the colour is not as vibrant and I much prefer the taste made with canned tomatoes. You compare and decide for yourself.

Serve with tortilla chips as a dip!
When I am not serving Zaalouk as part of a meze, I usually serve it with tortilla chips and don’t bother about the flat bread or pita. Tortilla chips and salsa has become a rather predictable pairing, try replacing it with Zaalouk  instead.

Use leftover to sauce pasta
Leftover Zaalouk tastes very, very good toss with spaghetti. Another suggestion is to simmer leftover Zaalouk with any leftover Beef Kefta (they are meatballs – take a look at the table of meze above) or just some meatballs.

WHAT’S COMING UP NEXT?

 Flashed Fried Sweet Mini Bell Peppers. I call them ‘flashed fried’ because the peppers are literally fried over super high heat for one to two minutes!

To recap, this post is part of my series on Meze, A Selection of Small Bites. It kicks off my start on appetisers that you could serve at your year-end parties. Here are the recipes I have posted under the series on,  A Selection Of Wonderful Little Bites:

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