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Moroccan Zaalouk (زَعَلوك)

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Amelia Casey-Rerhaye, BA Arabic

“The most versatile and easy dish, with a heartwarming depth of flavour”

As an avid hater until my teens, this is the dish that taught me to love aubergines. Zaalouk; a traditional Moroccan dip, based on aubergines and tomatoes with cumin and paprika. It is the most versatile and easy dish, with a heartwarming depth of flavour. The smell alone puts a smile on my face the second the spices mix together in the bottom of the pan. 

My personal favourite way to eat it is smothered on a thick piece of bread – it also works amazingly with goat’s cheese and maybe a squeeze of lemon, or in a sandwich. My dad once even mixed it in with a spoonful of pasta water and used it as a pasta sauce. It lasts a good three to five days in the fridge, so don’t be scared to make a big batch and eat it throughout the week. 

It should be noted that getting a comprehensible recipe out of any one member of my Moroccan family is almost impossible. It’s always ‘a little bit of this’ and a ‘pinch or two of that’ and ‘well of course you put garlic and cumin in, why would I even have to mention them.’ So forgive the recipe if the measurements are not exact. The best measurement of olive oil I received was ‘a lot.’ I have translated this to at least five tablespoons, however I usually just go by what feels right, and all recipes should be adjusted to the cook’s preferences anyway. 

Accordingly, no one Zaalouk recipe is ever the same. Each family makes it their own way. Some people grill the aubergine instead of boiling it, some use different spice mixes and even my grandmother’s and my dad’s versions differ. I’m not sure if it was ever meant to have any black pepper in it, but we have always used it and I think it adds a lovely warmth. For this reason, I need to mention a few little things that can be changed depending on what you own.

When I first came to university, I only owned smoked paprika. This is fine, just use half a teaspoon of smoked paprika and ignore the normal paprika. This adds a smoky flavour to the dip, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The chilli quantity can be changed to taste, and though it is best with fresh chilli, I normally just use chilli flakes as that’s what I have around. Finally, as mentioned, the spices are rough measurements. It is always safer to go with a little too much than a little too little. 

These proportions serve at least two, if not three people as a dip (although, for reference, I can easily eat the whole thing in one sitting alone if I’m hungry enough); and three or four as a pasta sauce. 


1 Aubergine

1 Fresh Tomato

5 tbsp Olive Oil

½ tsp Cumin

½ tsp Paprika

¼ tsp Smoked Paprika

4-5 Cloves of Garlic

1 Fresh Chilli or a tsp of Chilli Flakes

1 Small Bunch of Parsley


  • Dice the aubergine into small-ish cubes and boil in salted water until just soft and spongy (if they go a bit softer than expected don’t worry too much as they are going to be mashed later anyway). Drain well and leave in the colander to allow the steam to evaporate while you prepare the other ingredients.
  • Put the oil, spices and garlic into a pan on medium heat. Leave them until the aromatics come alive and start to sizzle. The scent of cumin should be starting to fill the kitchen at this point. This should take two or three minutes.
  • Once sizzling, add in the boiled aubergine and leave in the pan with a lid on until the aubergine is soft, almost melty, this takes around ten minutes, but it is always better to go by texture rather than timings. 
  • Cut the tomato in half and place on top of the aubergine mix in the pan, cut side facing down. Once the skin starts to blister and peel, gently pinch the skin and peel it off (I use my hand for this but if it’s too hot you can use a knife or fork). Once all the skin is off, use a spatula to roughly chop up the tomato and mix into the aubergine.
    • An alternative method for the tomato would be to score a cross into its skin, place it into a bowl of hot water and leave for five-ish minutes. The skin will peel at the score, remove it from the water, peel off the skin, dice and throw into the aubergine mix. This works perfectly well, I just find it takes longer.
  • Leave for a minute or two, then go in with a potato masher and mash everything  together. Mash for longer than you think, it should be a real arm workout. I never whizz it up, as I think the beauty is in the rough mashing, however if you want it to be the consistency of baby food then, by all means, whizz away. 
  • If it is still a little watery, leave it simmering, uncovered, until it reduces down. It should be a little thicker than baba ganoush. 
  • Once as thick and smooth as you can get it, turn off the heat and sprinkle with the chopped parsley and add salt and pepper to taste. 
  • Finally drizzle with a bit of olive oil and serve with bread or traditional moroccan salads.

Photo caption : Zaalouk, traditionally served as a side dish along with other salads. (credit: Demuths Cookery School)

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