One of the greatest things about preparing your own food as a volunteer in rural Morocco is the ritual associated with it; this ritual which gives meaning to everything that is cooked, baked, and consumed here.
It’s mid-morning as I trudge across the dirt hill to see Nacer, my ‘fruit man.’ In recent months my relationship with Nacer has developed from seller-customer, to something more of a friendship which includes cous cous on Friday’s. I’m stopped on my way up the hill by Siham, his second eldest daughter who often helps him sell fruit during the week. Today Siham has her own stand, equipped with bananas, oranges, and apples; the standard fare for winter fruit in my region of Morocco. We exchange pleasantries and I present her with some date jam that I bought in Merzouga the week before when I went on a camel trek. I buy some apples and oranges from Siham, but she tells me that her father has better bananas. So we trudge up the hill together. Life on the side of a mountain is always a workout. Nacer of course is pleased to see me and we also exchange pleasantries. He scolds me for not coming to cous cous the day before and I tell him about my adventure at the post office that kept me detained all afternoon. Nacer has the ‘good’ bananas and some pears, so I ask for a 1/2 kilo of both. I’m working on converting from Ryals to Dirhams (A not- so-complicated currency conversion for math wizards, but confusing for the rest of us who took classes like ‘Excursions into Mathematics’ in college) so Nacer allows me time to think and divide in my head. I’m about 1.5 Dirhams’s off, but I’m getting better at converting, so I look at it as progress. Siham informs me that the vegetables are good today as it is the main ‘souk,’ or market day of the week in town. As she speaks, I take a gander at the stall on the other side of Nacer’s and spy some ful (fava beans). I usually alternate between two vegetable sellers, but today I opt to shop at the vegetable stall near Nacer’s. The vegetable seller, whose name I can’t remember, is nice enough. He’s not overtly friendly, but he’s straight and to the point which I like. I confirm with him that the ful I saw is indeed ful and tell him that I want to make pisara (soup). A smile breaks out on his face and he informs me that dried ful would be better for making pisara, but I tell him I’m so excited that I don’t care. The selection is wonderful today. Squash, cauliflower, zucchini, onions, cucumbers, green peppers, beets, turnips, carrots, eggplant, etc. Everything looks fresh and new. I gather some items and ask how much tomatoes cost this week. During the summer a kilo of tomatoes can be purchased for about 3 Dhs, or less than a dollar. But the price of tomatoes has sky rocketed since they are out of season and last week I payed 9 Dhs, or a little over a dollar. This week as it turns out they are 7 Dhs. I’m happy for the price decrease. As I go to pay a stranger offers a Dirham on my behalf as I sifted through my bag looking for one, I offer to pay him back but he politely refuses. I smile and thank him profusely. Then, I heave my souk bag over my shoulder and start heading home satisfied with this ritual I have come to enjoy.
Recipe adapted from About.com
I added 1/2 an onion and only used 1 small eggplant and 2 tomatoes, which made enough for one person.
- 1 large eggplant, peeled and chopped*
- 4 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or pressed
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro and parsley, mixed
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/3 cup water
- small wedge of lemon (optional)
*Rather than peeling and chopping the eggplant, you might prefer to roast it. Slice the eggplant lengthwise and place it skin-side-up under a broiler. Leave it to roast for about 15 minutes, or until the skin is scorched and and the eggplant is very tender. Scoop out the roasted eggplant from the skin, puree it with a vegetable masher, and proceed with the recipe.
Mix all ingredients in a large, deep skillet or pot. Cover and simmer over medium to medium-high heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Adjust the heat if necessary to avoid burning the zaalouk.
Use a spoon or potato masher to crush and blend the tomatoes and eggplant. If you like, a small wedge of lemon can be added to the pan at this time. Continue simmering, uncovered, for 10 minutes or until the liquids are reduced and the zaalouk can be stirred into a heap in the center of the pan.
Serve warm or cold with crusty bread.