I will admit up front, this title may actually be a little misleading. It is not a "salad" in the sense that most of us from the west know, which is the leafy green, oil and vinegar dressed concoction, but is more of a wet dish, or somewhat clumsily, a dip. Its place on the North African table is to be served alongside several other highly seasoned flavours, perhaps some couscous and a tagine, and definitely some flatbread and harissa.
Secondly, this type of dish can be found in countries across North Africa such as Tunisia and Algeria. It is not only to be found in Morocco, but its concept and spicing is definitely based in that region.
With all that out of the way, let me tell you a little about this wonderful dish. Large shiny black eggplant (aubergine) are sliced into rounds and quickly shallow fried, which leaves the cut exterior a deep golden colour. The eggplant is then cooked again; this time slowly with tomatoes, herbs and spices until it has a mysterious and delicious blend of flavours.
Don't think that this dish needs to be served with only Moroccan food. I find it marries well to a whole range of ingredients, particularly full flavoured cuts of fish and poultry. It is also a fantastic basis for a scrumptious vegetarian meal. Just add some oven dried tomatoes, some fresh ricotta cheese mixed with basil and garlic and some good quality bread.
1 large or 2 small eggplant (about 750 gm or 1 1/2 lb)
2 tomatoes, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 bunch flat leaf parsley, leaves picked
2 Tbs capers, rinsed and dried
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 Tbs ground cumin
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 preserved lemon, skin finely chopped (optional)
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Freshly ground black pepper
Cut the eggplant into rounds about 1 cm (1/2 inch) thick. Heat the oil to medium high in a high-sided frying pan or wide pot and fry the eggplant in a single layer until it is well browned on both sides. Do this in a few batches. Remove and drain on kitchen paper. In the same oil add the parsley and fry quickly until crisp. Beware. This will make the oil splutter a fair bit. Scoop out the parsley and allow to drain as well. Finally, add the capers (which will also splutter) and fry until crispy, 3 - 4 minutes. Remove and drain.
Keeps well, refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.
Pour off all but 1/3 cup of the oil. Set the heat to medium and fry the onion and garlic for 2 - 3 minutes. Add all the spices, except for the salt and pepper and cook for 2 more minutes. Add the tomatoes, eggplant, parsley and capers. Stir well. Turn the heat to low and cover the pan. Cook gently, stirring occasionally for 20 minutes. Add the lemon juice and some salt and pepper, stir again and cook for another 10 minutes covered. By this stage the eggplant should have almost completely collapsed and most of the oil will have risen to the top. This is a good thing as the oil creates an airtight layer that helps the eggplant to keep fresh during storage, just tip it away as you serve it.