#ThatTranslatorCanCook Week Five: Moroccan Zaalouk

This week, I decided to try out zaalouk from an Arabic recipe. My husband and I are trying to eat more vegetarian dishes for health and environmental reasons and the femme de ménage in the volunteer flat where I stayed when I volunteered with Moroccan Children’s Trust in 2016 made a delicious zaalouk for us every week, so I have fond memories of this meal!


My first issue was how to transliterate ‘زعلوك’ into English. It is a specific name for an aubergine and tomato based dish, so I didn’t feel that trying to give it another name would really invoke the exotic nature of this meal! I tried googling a rough transliteration (za’alouk) and discovered that zaalouk seemed to be the most common choice.

Recipe Descriptions

This recipe was interesting, as it was headed with a small introduction to the recipe. The predominant function of this intro seemed to be to promote Moroccan cooking (I’m not sure where they got the statistic that Moroccan cooking is the best cuisine in the world, second only to French, though I would certainly agree that it’s very yummy!)


My second issue with translating the introduction occurred when describing the difference cuisines that have influenced Moroccan cooking. Most were straightforward (Arabic, French, etc.), but I found ‘أمازيغي’ a little challenging. This is because it is the traditional name for the indigenous people of Moroccan and it is often rendered as ‘Berber’ in English. However, I have recently become aware of the negative connotations of this term; it comes from the same etymology as ‘Barbarian’, which apparently originally comes from the Greek, because in Ancient Greece, Greeks believed that anyone who spoke a foreign language was a savage who sounded like they were saying ‘bar bar bar’. See this amazing video by John Green for more info on that. I therefore decided to opt for Amazigh, which tends to be the preferred ‘PC’ translation in English, with an added note to explain what this means. However, I am aware that a lot of Moroccans are very proud of their ‘Berber’ heritage and will use the term ‘berbère’ in French when they talk about this. So, it’s really subjective, but as a non-Moroccan, I feel more comfortable with the term ‘Amazigh’.


I’m aware that Hannah from Hannah Translates came across the issue of translating types of pepper when translating French to English and I was interested to see this crop up in an Arabic to English translation. Similarly to Hannah, I found that chilli, black pepper and bell peppers all used the same founding word with added adjectives to describe the difference:

  • فلفل أسود = black pepper
  • فلفل حلو = (bell) pepper (literally: sweet pepper)
  • فلفل حار = chilli (literally: hot pepper)

All three of these popped up in this recipe, and I decided to render them as above. I believe that for a U.K. audience, most people would assume that pepper on its own (or preceded by a colour, as in this recipe: ‘yellow and red pepper’) refers to a bell pepper. ‘Bell pepper’ feels like a more American term, but I would be interested to hear your thoughts in the comments!


This recipe was pretty easy to follow, although a little more time consuming than I expected. Plus, there were a few unexpected steps…

My first issue was how to peel a tomato! In the ingredients, it stated that you needed peeled tomatoes, chopped into cubes, but the method didn’t give any help on how to do this! I googled it and find it was actually pretty straight forward!

Tomatos blanching in a saucepan
Peeled tomatoes in a bowl

However, I do think this step is a little unnecessary. Generally, I’m the type of cook who refuses to peel vegetables because a) it’s fiddly and time-consuming and b) you’re losing nutrients. I imagine that peeled tomatoes give a slightly smoother texture, but I don’t really think it’s worth it.

Slice aubergine on a wooden chopping board

The second unexplained step was cooking the aubergine prior to frying. The ingredients state that you need ‘grilled or boiled’ aubergine, but, again, gives you no instructions on how to do this. I opted for boiling, as I was already using the oven to make some bread to go with it. However, I have no idea how long I was supposed to boil them for and actually think I probably should have left them in a bit longer, as they took quite a while to break down when I fried them.

Zaalouk ingredients frying in a pan

The rest of the recipe was easy to follow. Essentially just bung all of the ingredients in a pan and cook til softened into a sort of chunky paste. Shoutout to my husband who helped out with a lot of the chopping (we often cook together – it speeds it up and means more time spent together). I did notice that the method forget to mention when to add the cumin mentioned in the ingredients, so I just added it at the same time as the black pepper. Also, as you will probably have guessed if you’ve read my post on the Moroccan Pastilla, I added a whole bulb of garlic instead of one clove!

Zaalouk with halloumi and homemade bread

I paired the final result with some home-made bread and halloumi; I got this slightly Mediterranean twist idea when googling the transliteration of zaalouk, as several English recipes suggested adding halloumi. Traditionally, this would be served warm or cold with other accompanying salads, but my husband and I enjoyed it as shown.

I’m not sure what I’ll be cooking next week, but it’ll probably be French again. As always, if you have any suggestions, please put them in the comments, or contact me on social media!

P.S. Hannah at Hannah Translates has also tried zaalouk, which actually reminded me how much I liked it, this time from a French recipe!

Published by verityroat

Verity Roat BA CANTAB MA TRANSLATION CIOL Career Associate is a UK-based Arabic and French > English translator, Copy-writer, Copy-editor, Transcriber, Role-player & Tutor.

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