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Zaalouk is a Moroccan cooked salad of eggplants and tomatoes that’s usually eaten as a dip with Moroccan bread.
Key to zaalouk’s great flavor is the traditional Moroccan seasoning of cumin and paprika with garlic, cilantro, parsley, and olive oil. A little lemon juice can be added to lift the flavor at end of cooking.
This is the same flavor profile that’s found in the classic Moroccan marinade, chermoula. It was Moroccan food writer Nada Kiffa who pointed this out to me and helped me to recognize that chermoula was “hidden” in a number of dishes’ lists of ingredients, including this one.
There is lots of room to play with seasoning, and I definitely lean toward zesty and garlicky rather than mild. Whole chili peppers or cayenne pepper can be added if you like things spicy hot.
How to Make Zaalouk
I learned to make zaalouk from my mother-in-law many years ago. She used two or three tomatoes to each eggplant, which yields a red, saucy zaalouk that benefits from generous seasoning.
In recent years, I find that I prefer less tomato because I’ve started to enjoy the flavor of eggplant, a vegetable I never used to like on its own. I’m proof that tastes can change over time!
My mother-in-law’s cooking method was to peel and chop the tomatoes and eggplant, place them in a pot or deep skillet along with the rest of the ingredients and a little water, and then cook everything down to a puree-like consistency.
She sometimes added a tiny wedge of lemon and a spoonful of tomato paste during the final reduction, but neither was a must.
That’s how I made zaalouk for years until I began to appreciate other versions of zaalouk which varied in the ratio of tomatoes to eggplant and the quantity of seasoning, as well as in texture and cooking methods.
For example, not everyone aims for a mash or dip-like puree; they might prefer a chunky consistency to their cooked salad.
And not everyone uses as much tomato or as robust seasoning as my mother-in-law; less tomato and less seasoning allow the full flavor of eggplant to shine.
Others might add a roasted pepper or two, in essence making a hybrid of zaalouk and taktouka, an equally popular roasted pepper and tomato salad.
Ways to Cook Eggplant for Zaalouk
Aside from that, the most major difference you’ll see in zaalouk variations is the treatment that’s given to the eggplants themselves.
Some Moroccan cooks will only partially peel the eggplants, which allows for a more colorful salad.
And instead of cooking raw eggplant directly with the tomatoes, some cooks will boil or steam the eggplants before adding them to the pot. Others will roast them.
How to Roast Eggplants
Making zaalouk with roasted eggplant has become my favorite cooking method for this dish. Not only do I love the layer of smoky flavor, but it simplifies the cooking process.
Anything that helps me be more efficient in the kitchen is a good thing!
I cut the eggplants in half lengthwise, then roast the eggplants skin-side-up under the broiler while prepping and cooking the tomatoes.
Sometimes I insert whole peeled cloves of peeled garlic into an incision in the eggplants’ flesh so it can roast along with the eggplants. If you like roasted garlic, give it a try!
When done — the eggplants’ skin will be charred to the point of cracking or crumbling a bit and the flesh will feel very soft — I can easily scoop the flesh from the skin and add it to the tomatoes, which by then have reduced to a sauce in the pan.
You can certainly roast whole eggplants over an open fire or on a grill, or roast whole eggplants in the oven with both the bottom and top heating elements on, but these methods require more time and attention to turn the eggplants for even charring on all sides.
Zaalouk is a popular accompaniment to Moroccan main dishes of all kinds. You can garnish it with fresh cilantro, chili peppers, a little olive oil, or even harissa on the side.
Like many other Moroccan salads, it’s typically enjoyed as a dip at meals where khobz or other crusty bread is used in place of utensils.
In my home, however, we sometimes deviate from tradition and enjoy it as a vegetarian main or side dish over basmati rice or paella. Delicious!
Also be sure to try Moroccan Eggplant in Chermoula, a similar salad that’s made without tomatoes.
Frequently Asked Questions
Zaalouk is a cooked Moroccan salad that’s made from eggplants and tomatoes. Like many other Moroccan salads, it’s often eaten as a dip.
You will sometimes see the word zaalouk in tandem with other mashed salads such as Zaalouk of Cauliflower or Zaalouk of Cabbage. But used by itself, zaalouk usually refers to the eggplant and tomato salad.
In addition to eggplants and tomatoes, zaalouk typically includes garlic, cilantro, parsley, olive oil, paprika, cumin, and salt. Cayenne pepper or chili peppers are optional. Sometimes lemon, tomato paste, onion, or peppers are added.
Some cooks simply peel and chop the eggplants and tomatoes and cook them together in one pot or pan with the herbs, olive oil, and spices.
Other cooks might make a sauce from the tomatoes first, then add eggplant which has already been boiled, steamed, or roasted.
The final consistency is a matter of personal preference; anywhere from chunky to a puree-like paste or mash is fine.
Yes, but including at least a little tomato is much more common. How much to use can vary quite a bit. Some Moroccans like a redder zaalouk with one to three tomatoes per eggplant; others might use several eggplants to only one or two tomatoes.
You might also see recipes calling for a spoonful or two of tomato paste for deeper color and tomato flavor.
Not at all, but some cooks like to include a little toward the end of cooking, or they might add a small wedge of lemon to the pot. It can definitely lift and complement the flavor.
This is not a common problem, but it can be a result of using underripe tomatoes or adding too much lemon juice. You can correct an acidic zaalouk with a tiny bit of sugar or honey, just as you would correct tomato sauce. But err on the side of caution if you need to make this adjustment; too acidic might be preferable to too sweet.
Smoked paprika is not a traditional Moroccan ingredient, but it can work very well in zaalouk and a number of other Moroccan recipes which call for paprika. I particularly like it in kefta. You’ll need to decide whether to replace all or only some of the sweet paprika with smoked.
Yes, you can. It will keep for two to three months. Thaw frozen zaalouk overnight in the fridge or at room temperature for a few hours. Reheat in a pan to freshen it and reduce any excess liquid. Taste and adjust seasoning before serving.
Moroccan Zaalouk Recipe
- 2 large eggplants - or 3 medium
- 2 medium or large tomatoes - or more to taste
- 6 cloves garlic, pressed or finely chopped - or to taste
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley - approx.
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro - approx.
- 1 teaspoon salt - or to taste
- 2 teaspoons paprika - or to taste
- 2 teaspoons cumin - or to taste
- 4 tablespoons olive oil - approx.; no need to measure
- cayenne pepper or whole chili peppers - optional; to taste
- lemon juice or small wedge of lemon - optional; to taste
- chopped parsley or cilantro - optional; for garnish
- olive oil - optional; to drizzle on top as garnish
Roasted Eggplant Method
- Trim the stems from the eggplants and cut them in half lengthwise. Arrange the eggplant halves skin side up on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil and place under the broiler as close to the flame or heating element as possible.
- Roast the eggplants for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until the skins are charred and puckered with sections that crumble or crack like burnt paper when pressed. The flesh will be very soft.
- While the eggplant is roasting, peel, seed, and chop the tomatoes.
- Transfer the chopped tomatoes to a skillet along with the olive oil, garlic, parsley, cilantro, and spices. The optional cayenne and whole chili peppers can be added at this time as well.
- Cook the tomato mixture over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the tomatoes break down and a rich tomato sauce forms. This usually takes 10 to 20 minutes, depending on how soft the tomatoes were and how many you used.
- When the eggplants are roasted, remove them from the oven. When cool enough to handle, use a large spoon to scoop the flesh from the skin. Discard the skin.
- Add the eggplant flesh to the tomato mixture, stirring to combine. Use the back of a spoon or a fork to mash any firm bits of eggplant. If you want to add the optional lemon juice or a very small wedge of lemon, you can do so at this time.
- Cook the zaalouk for five to ten minutes to allow the flavors to blend, or longer if you want to reduce the salad to a drier, pastier consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning then remove from the heat.
- Peel, seed, and chop the tomatoes. Place them in a large deep skillet or large pot along with the olive oil, spices, garlic, and herbs. Stir to combine.
- Trim the stems from the eggplants and peel them. Some strips of skin can be left intact if you like a colorful zaalouk.Finely chop the peeled eggplants and add them to the skillet or pot along with 1/4 to 1/3 cup of water. If your pan is quite full, don't worry about stirring the eggplant into the tomato mixture just yet.
- Cover and cook the tomato mixture and eggplants over medium heat for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until the chopped eggplant has begun to soften and reduce in volume.
- Stir to combine all the ingredients well. Add the optional chili peppers or cayenne, if using, and a little more water if you found that the ingredients were sticking to the bottom of the pan.
- Cover and continue cooking for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until the eggplant and tomatoes are soft enough to mash.
- At this point, you can add the optional lemon juice or lemon wedge if using.Continue cooking the zaalouk uncovered to reduce the liquids, scraping the bottom of the pan and stirring frequently. Adjust the heat if necessary to avoid burning the zaalouk.If you want a puree-like consistency, mash the eggplants and tomatoes while the liquids reduce. If you prefer a chunky texture, stir without mashing.
- When the zaalouk has reduced to a consistency you like, taste and adjust seasoning then remove from the heat.
Serving and Storing Zaalouk
- Zaalouk can be served warm, cold, or at room temperature. Garnish as desired with fresh parsley or cilantro and/or a drizzle of good olive oil.
- Zaalouk will keep for several days in the fridge or two to three months in the freezer.If freezing, allow the zaalouk to thaw before reheating in a pan. Reduce any excess liquids and adjust the seasoning if needed.
- Soft, ripe tomatoes are preferred for making zaalouk. Firmer tomatoes tend not to break down into a sauce as easily and might also be more acidic.
- If you like a red, saucy zaalouk, you can use one or two additional tomatoes or add a spoonful of tomato paste to the ingredients. The more tomatoes you use, the more you may want to increase seasoning.
- I prefer to use a deep, large skillet when making zaalouk because the extra surface area allows for a quicker reduction of liquids.
- Roasted garlic is not used traditionally in zaalouk, but I sometimes add it. An easy way to roast the garlic along with the eggplant is to make an incision in the flesh of the eggplant halves and insert a peeled clove of garlic. When the eggplants have finished roasting, remove the garlic cloves and mash them before adding them to the zaalouk mixture.
Nutrition information is provided as a courtesy and is only an estimate obtained from online calculators. Optional ingredients may not be included in the nutritional information.REVIEW THIS RECIPE