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Moroccan eggplant (aubergine) in chermoula or Bdenjal Mchermel is an easy cooked salad or side dish which can be made ahead of time and served later. It’s traditionally presented on small plates which are arranged around a main dish which has been placed in the center of the table. It also works as a garnish when served over grilled fish or a stewed piece of lamb, providing extraordinary contrast.
Since eggplant is a bland vegetable, you should be generous with the chermoula and allow ample time for marinating. The eggplant will benefit from long exposure to spices and herbs and will absorb all of their goodness.
Methods of Cooking and Serving Eggplant with Chermoula
This salad is easy to prepare. Since I rarely run out of chermoula and I usually have oven-roasted eggplants ready for all sorts of recipes during the week, I am able to make it in an instant.
It is tradition to serve the marinated eggplant whole or cut into thick slices or wedges, but I can assure you that dicing it or just cutting in large pieces is equally good. And, while chermoula made with fresh herbs is key to this salad, the choice of cooking method is fundamental to the final flavor.
When the eggplant is to be served whole, a few lengthwise slits are first cut all around and then the eggplant is either boiled in salted water or rubbed with salt and steamed. This method requires draining the cooked eggplant for a few hours followed by pat drying to ensure that it won’t render a lot of water in the marinating stage. The slits will have to be generously filled with chermoula.
Initially people used to fry slices of aubergine, pat them dry, then mix them with chermoula. However, many years ago my family replaced frying with baking. This method of cooking is much healthier and it intensifies flavors. The baking time varies according to the thickness of the pieces but most importantly, you should look for a nice golden brown color.
Each family has a preference. At this stage of my life, I do tend to go for the oven-roasted option as described in my recipe below.
Moroccan Eggplant (Aubergine) Salad in Chermoula
Preparing the Eggplants
- Peel 3 or 4 strips of skin lengthwise (top to bottom) from each eggplant, leaving a strip of intact skin between each peeled section. This creates a striped effect; one strip on, one strip off. (Note: Leave the stem intact if preparing whole eggplant.)
- If you wish to serve cubes, slices or wedges of eggplant, cut the vegetable accordingly. If serving whole eggplants, make 3 or more deep slits lengthwise, taking care not to cut through the stem end. (The larger the eggplant, the more slits to make.) This will create elongated wedges which are attached near the stem.
- Toss the eggplant in olive oil and sprinkle salt all over.
Cooking and Serving
- For pieces of eggplants: Preheat your oven to 400° F (200° C). Spread the eggplant in a single layer on a baking pan lined with foil or parchment paper. Bake for 20 to 40 minutes, or until you see dark edges and some golden brown patches. (The baking time depends on the thickness of the pieces.) Remove from the oven and let cool.
- If using whole eggplants, steam them for about 20 to 40 minutes, using a knife to check for tenderness. When ready, the knife should slide smoothly through the eggplant. Set in a colander and leave to drain for a few hours. Pat dry.
- Delicately coat the eggplant with the marinade. Add vinegar or lemon juice and adjust the seasoning to your liking. (Alternatively, you can saute the chermoula in olive oil for a few seconds; remove the pan from the heat then stir in the eggplant.)
- Gently stir in the lemon juice or vinegar. Cover and place in the fridge to marinate for at least 24 hours.
- Eggplant with Chermoula Salad keeps well in the fridge for up to 4 days. Stir gently before serving.