Charred aubergine and sweet peppers

Zaalouk; charred aubergines, sweet peppers, and chilies

 

Flavors of Morocco

 

Zaalouk is Morocco’s peperonata. Once you begin charring the aubergines, sweet peppers, chilies, roasting the garlic, and mixing the Moroccan spices together the air in the kitchen is suddenly redolent with the aromas of a far off land that beckons with its uniquely colorful and adventurous cuisine. The simplest of ingredients are seasoned and transformed as if a nuanced touch of a Moroccan cook were with you in the kitchen cooking up some  extraordinarily enticing feast for the eyes as well as the palate.

Zaalouk is served as a beginning for a Moroccan meal with kisra and jben or to accompany other dishes set out for the main meal of many dishes for all to share and enjoy.

Zaalouk: makes about 3-4 cups

  • 2 medium aubergines
  • 2-4 fresh hot green chilies
  • 1 long sweet red pepper
  • 1 long sweet yellow  pepper
  • 6 plump garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup olive oil + more for drizzling
  • 1/2 pound cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted
  • 1 cup of water or stock
  • 2 tablespoons sweet paprika (or 1 tablespoon smoked paprika)
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 small cinnamon stick
  • 12 oil cured black olives, pitted and halved
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley + leaves for finishing
  • 2 tablespoons chopped mint leaves
  • 2 tablespoons chopped pickled lemon
  • salt to taste 
Zaalouk; charred aubergines, sweet peppers, and chilies

Zaalouk; charred aubergines, sweet peppers, and chilies

Set up an outdoor grill or a rack over a gas burner on your stove and char the whole aubergines, green chilies, and sweet peppers until uniformly charred all over. Set aside until cool enough to handle and then rub off the charred skins. Resist the temptation to peel the skins under running water as this washes away flavor. A few bits of charred skin left on the vegetables will add a nice smoky flavor to the finished dish. Place the aubergines in a colander and drain for 30 minutes.

Peel off the charred skins of the sweet peppers and chilies, cut them open lengthwise, remove the seeds, and cut into thin strips about 1 inch long. Set aside to add later.

Once the aubergines have drained apply some pressure with your hand to squeeze out any remaining liquid. Tear the flesh lengthwise. You will find it tears off into strips. Place the strips in a bowl and coarsely mash by hand.

Toast the coriander and cumin seeds in a small dry saute pan. Coarsely grind and add to them to the mashed aubergine.

Lightly roast the whole garlic cloves in a dry pan and when cool enough to handle peel off the skin, thinly slice them lengthwise, and set aside.

Place ¼ cup of olive oil in a large skillet and when nearly smoking hot add the cherry tomatoes and cook over medium high heat until the skins begin to blister and the tomatoes begin to break down. Add the onions and lower the heat. Sprinkle the sugar over the tomatoes and onions and saute until very soft.

When the tomatoes and onions are finished cooking,  turn the heat down to medium-low and add the mashed aubergine, the garlic, and the toasted coriander and cumin seeds to the skillet and mix together. Add the water or stock and cook for about 15 minutes. Then add the reserved sweet pepper and green chili strips, paprika, cayenne, cinnamon stick, and black olives and cook another 10 minutes or until the sauce is reduced and thickened. Add the parsley, mint, and pickled lemon. Cook an additional 2 minutes. Taste for seasoning and salt to taste. Set aside to cool. Remove the cinnamon stick.

Serve the zaalouk at room temperature drizzled with olive oil and topped with fresh parsley leaves.

The zaalouk will keep in the refrigerate for up to five days.

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