This sweet and savory Moroccan dish features chicken, lamb or beef cooked m’qualli-style then garnished with a warm Moroccan pumpkin paste. The chicken version in particular is associated with Eid Al Mawlid, the remembrance of the Prophet’s ﷺ birth.
Eid al Mawlid is an important day in Morocco as it is an occasion to reflect on ourselves and listen to some religious chants. Eid al Mawlid follows the lunar calculation. Although not officially observed in many Muslim countries, Moroccan schools and some businesses do take a day or two off.
Moroccan Culinary Traditions for Eid al Mawlid
As far as food is concerned, we have a regional breakfast tradition of serving a classic warm assida, a sort of semolina porridge served with butter and honey. As for lunch, the traditional dish is this delightful chicken m’qualli with its mderbel of pumpkin. Some choose to make a m’qualli of meat instead of chicken—it’s the same recipe apart from the cooking time—but the chicken version is the one associated with eid while meat might be preferred the rest of the year.
This recipe is the combination of how to make a m’qualli for sweet dishes and the recipe for sweet Moroccan pumpkin paste. It’s as easy as that.
Moroccan Chicken, Lamb or Beef M'qualli with Pumpkin Paste - D’jaj (or L’ham) M’qualli Mderbel
Chicken (or Meat) and Marinade
- 1 medium-size yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup vegetable and olive oil (may be reduced by half for a lighter version)
- 1 clove garlic grated, (optional)
- small bouquet of fresh cilantro/coriander (optional)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp ground black and white pepper
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 tbsp clear honey or sugar
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
- Make the marinade: In a small glass bowl, cover the saffron threads with 1/4 cup of hot water and set aside for about 10 minutes. Stir in the salt, turmeric, ginger pepper and smen.
- Transfer the marinade to a large bowl. Add the chicken or meat, turning and rubbing each piece to coat them all well. Cover and leave to marinate for a minimum of 1 hour (or as long as overnight).
- Transfer the chicken with its marinade to a deep cooking pot with a heavy bottom or a tagine (see Notes). Add the chopped onion and top with 1/4 cup of water.
- Bring to a simmer for 10 to 15 minutes over medium heat while stirring and turning the meat a few times. You may cover the pot during this step and uncover it to stir.
- When the water seems to have mostly evaporated, and the chicken or meat has turned golden on all sides, add the oil and other remaining ingredients, except for the honey.
- Add enough water to reach no more than 2/3rd the level of chicken or meat. Cover and let simmer until the chicken or meat is tender and the liquids are reduced.
- During cooking, regularly check to be sure that there are still liquids. Add more water if necessary, particularly when cooking lamb or beef which will require a longer cooking time.
- At the end of cooking, the liquids should have reduced. Add the honey and stir.
- Tip: If the chicken has cooked but you still have a good amount of liquid, fish out the chicken, cover it with foil or cling film, and leave it on the side while you carry on reducing the liquids.
- Traditionally, we start by pouring some marqa/sauce into the serving plate then we place the chicken on top. We top the chicken with enough pumpkin paste (barely warmed) for everyone. If you have used a tagine to cook you just need to place it directly in the middle of the table.
- Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds or blanched, fried and crushed almonds.
- You could serve extra pumpkin paste in side plates to go with the dish.
- The chicken and its sauce are usually served hot, so be sure to heat the pumpkin paste used to garnish the dish.
- Extra pumpkin paste can be served cold or at room temperature on small plates as a side or cooked salad.
- If cooking in a clay or ceramic tagine, the use of a diffuser is recommended. Use no more than a medium-low heat, and allow additional cooking time as compared to regular pot cooking.