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Wednesday, 13 February 2008

morocco, part two: Zaalouk

The first of the two main dishes I cooked with Lahcen in Fes was Zaalouk, a smokey aubergine stew spiced with cumin and paprika. (I learnt a brilliant general cooking tip during its preparation: to pulp raw tomatoes, chop them in half horizontally and use a box grater to grate the flesh away from the skin.)

The recipe includes preserved lemons. No biggie if you don't have them but they are apparently quite easy to make -- you score some lemons, overstuff them with salt, squeeze them into a jar, top it up with more salt, water and lemon juice and then let them fester for four weeks. I set my first batch in the cupboard on the weekend so can't say how they're going yet. Will let you know next month.

What you need for Zaalouk
2-3 aubergines
2-3 tomatoes
Finely chopped chillies, seeds discarded (2-3 if mild, 1 if hot)
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/4 of a chopped, preserved lemon (not essential)
1 pinch each of ground cumin, paprika, ground black pepper
Lemon juice
Olive oil
A handful of olives and strips of preserved lemon skin to serve (if you have it)

The Do
To get your Zaalouk smokey as Dusty Springfield you really want to start by cooking the aubergine directly on a medium flame on your stovetop, letting them blister on the outside and turning regularly until they are scalded black all over and going limp. (If, like me, you don't have gas, bugger. You can do it in the oven.) When they are cooked, seal the aubergines in a plastic bag for at least twenty minutes. It will be very easy to remove their skins thereafter.

Meanwhile, slice your tomatoes in half and grate the flesh into a bowl (such a genius way to leave the skins behind). Set aside. Fry the finely chopped chillies in olive oil for a few minutes before adding the garlic. Soften over medium heat (chuck in a little wine if you so desire), then add the tomatoes and chopped, preserved lemon. Once the toms are heated through, mix in your spices and a splash more olive oil. Let the mix reduce over a low heat until the tomatoes have thickened. Meanwhile take your cooled, smokey aubergines out of the plastic, peel off the skin and chop them good. Add them to the mix and mash it all up over the heat until it fuses into a lovely, thick, velvety stew. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes before stirring in the fresh parsley. Sprinkle with olives, lemon juice and preserved lemon peel. In my limited experience, Zaalouk is best accompanied by fresh, crusty bread for scooping, lots of smiles and a bloody good view.

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