People who know me would tell you that it's hard to tell which I like more: gardening or cooking. I'd say it depends on which I'm doing at the moment. Anyway, French cooking and French gardening go hand in hand. For me, cooking is an on-going adventure. Join me here on my culinary explorations, where I share with you both my old favorites as well as new inspirations. It's my fondest wish that these recipes serve as a springboard for your own new creations.
10/12/2011 Grilled zaalouk (Salade zaalouk aux légumes grillés) Clay pot
To serve 4:
2 lbs. young, firm eggplants 2-3 ripe red bell peppers 4 medium or 3 large ripe tomatoes, end-of-summer if possible 2 cloves garlic 2-3 T. extra virgin olive oil 1/2 t. ground cumin 1/4-1/2 t. Aleppo or Turkish Marash red pepper Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste Fresh lemon juice to taste 1/4 c. chopped fresh cilantro and/or parsley
Prick the eggplants with a fork in several spots and, either over a wood fire (preferably) or other grill, grill them until very soft when squeezed. Set aside in a bowl to cool.
Grill the red peppers until the skins are loose and charred. Place in a plastic bag or container to steam as they cool.
Cut the stems off the eggplants, split them in half lengthwise, and either peel them or scoop out the insides, whichever is easiest. Roughly chop the flesh and reserve.
Peel the peppers, core them, and, opening them up, remove any remaining seeds by running your fingers down them and rinsing the seeds from your fingers. Never run a roasted pepper under running water; you'll lose half the flavor. Cut the peppers into 1/2" squares.
Gently heat the olive oil in a clay poêlon or other shallow clay pot over medium heat on a flame tamer. (You may use a heavy, nonoxidizable skillet instead but will have to stir much more often and be more attentive.) Meanwhile mash the garlic in a mortar with the pepper, cumin, red pepper, and salt. Add this mash to the oil and saute gently for 2 minutes. Add the eggplant and peppers, stirring to combine thoroughly. Reduce the heat to very low.
Cut the tomatoes in half crosswise and scoop out their seeds with your index finger. Grate them, cut side against the grater, until you're left with an empty husk of skin (discard this). Add the tomatoes to the poêlon and combine gently but thoroughly. Continue cooking over extremely low heat for about 40 minutes. Taste, and correct the seasoning with lemon juice and more salt and spices if needed. Set aside to cool for at least 10 minutes. Top with the chopped herb and serve with crusty Moroccan or other bread. May be served lukewarm or at room temperature.
Note: This staple salad of Moroccan cuisine is usually prepared by first frying sliced eggplant, then cooking all the ingredients together until the oil "emerges"--which it does because the eggplant soaks up such quantities of it!! This version is infinitely lighter and, to my taste, much more flavorful due to the smokiness of the grilled vegetables.