It was just a little over a year ago that we made our last trip to Morocco. The smells of spices and incense in Marrakesh's Jemaa El Fna Place, obscure alleys filled with beautiful pottery, carpets and slippers, the warm comfort of slipping into a hammam on a cold evening and finishing with a thé à la menthe (mint tea)...it all seems like yesterday, rather than what is essentially a whole world away from our life in Bangkok. But I love and miss the flavors and culture of that part of the world, which I regularly enjoyed in Paris living in the Barbès neighborhood as well. Thus I was super excited when my French-Moroccan friend Sofia decided to have a Moroccan-themed dinner party at her place over the weekend and asked me to help with some of the cooking. Sofia had just returned from a trip to Morocco armed with spices, preserved lemons, prunes, orange blossom water...all the things needed for a delicious Moroccan meal.
Although not traditional, I added a bit of harissa, the North African chili paste, for some heat and pomegranate molasses for a touch of sweetness. Both were brought back by Luis on his last trip to Paris, but you can easily find them in Middle Eastern markets or international grocery stores. You can also make your own harissa - try this recipe from Saveur.
ZAALOUK (MOROCCAN EGGPLANT SALAD)
Serves 6-8 as part of a spread of appetizers or side dishes
2 large eggplants
Olive oil cooking spray
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large tomato, chopped
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 cup fresh chopped coriander
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley
Salt, to taste
1/2 teaspoon white wine or red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon harissa (optional)
1/2 teaspoon pomegranate molasses (optional)
1/2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (best quality you can find)
1. Preheat oven to 200 C / 400 F. Grease a foil-lined baking sheet with cooking spray or with a scant amount of oil.
2. Slice the eggplants in half lengthwise and place on the baking sheet, cut sides up. Mist with a little cooking spray or scant bit of oil.
3. Roast the eggplants in the oven for 30-40 minutes. When done, remove from oven and set aside to cool for 15 minutes or so.
4. Using a combination of spoon, fork and your hands, remove the pulp from the eggplants and place it into a bowl. Chop any big pieces with the spoon.
5. Warm the olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute until it just begins to turn golden.
6. Add the eggplant pulp, tomato, cumin powder, paprika, coriander and parsley. Stir everything well and cook for 10-15 minutes, until the eggplant and tomato both break down into a nice mush. The tomato should have practically melted into the puree.
7. Stir in the salt, vinegar, harissa and pomegranate molasses if using. Mix well and cook for a couple of minutes more.
8. Remove from heat and let the mixture cool down. Once cool, add the additional olive oil.
9. Serve either at room temperature or cold with pita bread or other bread of your choice (it's great with baguette too!).