Sunday, October 8, 2017


On our first night in Morocco, at a guest house in the medina of Azrou, a town south of Fes in the Middle Atlas, Fatima placed a salad of chopped tomatoes, onions and cucumber on a tiled table on a rooftop dining area. Lightly dressed with oil, the salad was accompanied by tiny bowls of salt and ground cumin for additional seasoning. A variation of this fresh salad, shlada, appeared as a starter before many Moroccan meals.

Moroccan salad of chopped tomatoes, onions and cucumbers--much like Andalusian pipirrana.

I was part of a photography landscape tour to Morocco. But, really, I was on a salad tour. My photography skills improved a little (thanks to Antonio Martín). My salad appreciation grew hugely as I sampled many variations, from the northern port of Tangier, almost touching Spain, to the distant desert of Merzouga, on the southeastern border of Morocco.

The River Ziz cuts a valley through an arid, desolate landscape of the Middle Atlas.

We drove through the Atlas Cedar Biosphere Reserve, home of majestic cedar trees, Barbary macaques and vendors peddling cedar bowls. Through desolate, arid, rocky landscapes. Where it seemed nothing could thrive, there would appear a herd of sheep, a lone donkey (much smaller species than the burro-taxi of Mijas), a pair of veiled women standing beside the road (bus stop?), a solitary tree.

Then, down from the rocky slopes into the Ziz Valley palm oasis, for lunch at Maison Zouala, an old Berber house, where our host, Hami, offered cold water and dates in welcome. Lunch began with a huge “presentation” salad—potatoes, tomatoes, roasted peppers, carrots, zucchini and green beans arranged on a platter and garnished with quartered egg, olives and sliced oranges.

A typical salad with raw and cooked vegetables arranged around a mound of rice, all beautifully garnished. Bread and olives always accompany salads. Clockwise from the top are marinated zucchini, green beans, potatoes, roasted peppers, chopped tomatoes and carrots. (Recipes below.)

By evening we reached our destination, Hotel Les Dunes d’Or (the “golden dunes”), an oasis on the edge of the desert near Merzouga, on the Algerian border of Morocco. On the terrace near the pool, a slight breeze was a welcome respite after the 100ºF+ temperatures during the day. Another chopped tomato salad refreshed the spirits.

After a morning haggling for scarves, shirts, necklaces, pantaloons and the like in the souk of Rissani (and joking about buying a tender kid-goat at the livestock market), we headed for lunch at the upstairs dining room of the Restaurante Panorama, overlooking the bustling market square. The classic chopped tomato salad here had corn kernels as a garnish. The salad was the perfect accompaniment to chicken brochettes with a side of fries with Arabic ketchup and mustard!

Olives in the souk of Rissani. Black Moroccan olives are intensely salty and oily. Pale green ones are somewhat like commercial Manzanilla olives. Purple olives in red paste are fiery-hot from harissa chile.

On the return trip from the desert of the south to the ferry port of Tangier, we stopped in the holy city of Moulay Idriss in order to visit nearby Roman ruins of Volubilis. There Romans were producing olive oil in the 2nd century AD.

The town of Moulay Idriss rises on the hills above the Roman ruins of Volubilis. This was olive-producing land in the 2nd century AD.

At the Dar Zerhoune guest house in the medina, dinner began with an assortment of salads served in separate bowls, much like Spanish tapas. I especially liked the eggplant salad, called zeilouk, sort of a cross between baba ghanoush and caponata.

Salad ingredients at the souk in Moulay Idriss.

A corner bread seller in the medina of Moulay Idriss. Bread accompanies every meal.

Chopped Tomato Salad
Ensaladilla de Tomatoes

This salad is almost identical to Andalusian pipirrana. It’s good served as a starter or as a side with grilled kebabs or fried fish.

The Moroccan salad may have chopped fresh cilantro instead of parsley and might have cumin or spicy-hot harissa chile paste added to it. Unlike the Spanish version, it does not have raw garlic. 
Harissa chile paste, optional.

1 cup chopped red onion
4 cups diced tomatoes
1 cup peeled and diced cucumber
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon cumin (optional)
Harissa chile paste (optional)
¼ cup chopped parsley or cilantro
Black olives

Place the chopped onion in a bowl and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt. Add water to cover. Soak the onions 30 minutes. Drain.

Place the onions in a bowl with the tomatoes and cucumber. Add the oil, 1 teaspoon salt and the cumin and harissa, if desired.

Immediately before serving, stir in the chopped parsley or cilantro. If the salad has been prepared in advance, the tomatoes and cucumbers will release a lot of liquid. Use a slotted spoon to serve the salad onto a platter or individual bowls. Garnish with olives.

The Big Salad
La Gran Ensalada

This is Salad II. Clockwise from the top are cabbage, grated raw carrots, sliced cucumbers, sliced tomatoes, cabbage, beets. (Recipes below.)

This grand presentation salad includes five or more vegetables, raw and cooked, arranged on a platter around a mound of rice and nicely garnished with sliced egg and two or more sorts of olives. Here are two versions I enjoyed in Morocco.

For salad I:
These ingredients make enough for two platters of salad, serving 8 to 10.

Cooked rice
Potato salad
Roasted green and red peppers
Diced carrot salad
Chopped tomato salad
Marinated zucchini
Green bean salad
Sliced orange
Black and green olives
Hard-cooked egg, quartered
Extra virgin olive oil

Mound rice in the center of a two large platters. Working clockwise from 12:00, arrange zucchini, green beans, potatoes, roast peppers, chopped tomato salad and carrots. Repeat. Garnish the platter with orange slices. Scatter olives over all. Place quartered egg on top. Sprinkle with salt and drizzle oil on top. Once assembled, serve the salad immediately.

For salad II.

Cooked rice
Sliced plum tomatoes
Cabbage salad
Beet salad
Grated carrot salad
Sliced cucumbers
2 tablespoons olive oil or additional dressing
Pomegranate seeds
Chopped mint

Mound rice in center of a large platter. Working clockwise from 12:00, arrange sliced tomatoes, cabbage, beets, grated carrots and sliced cucumber in sections. Repeat. Drizzle oil or dressing on top. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds.and chopped mint.

For salad dressing I:
Salads in Morocco are lightly dressed with oil and lemon juice. In the south, a light vegetable oil such as sunflower seems prevalent. (I did not sample any salads with argan oil.) Around Meknes and  Moulay Idris, good olive oil is produced.

Vinegar is not used in Moroccan salads. Use lemon or sour orange juice to add tanginess. Salt is an essential seasoning. Cumin sometimes is added to salads or served alongside for each person to add to taste.

Salt in dressing draws liquid out of ingredients. If preparing salads in advance, use a slotted spoon to lift the vegetables out of accumulated juices. The citric acid of lemon juice dulls bright green colors. Add the juice to green beans immediately before serving.

Fresh herbs can be added to the dressing or, to preserve freshness and color, tossed with the dressed vegetables immediately before serving.

Use 2 to 3 tablespoons of the dressing for each of the vegetable salads. Extra dressing keeps, covered and refrigerated, for up to 3 days.

3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
½ cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pimentón (paprika), not smoked
1 teaspoon cumin
½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Cook the garlic in a little water until soft, 15 minutes. (It can be cooked with any of the vegetables.) Peel the garlic and crush it in a bowl. Stir in the lemon juice, salt, pimentón and cumin. Whisk in the oil.

For salad dressing II:
Makes enough dressing for grated carrot salad and beet salad.

3 tablespoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon honey
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon orange blossom water (agua de azahar)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Combine the lemon juice, honey, salt and orange blossom water. Whisk in the oil.

Rice for Salads
Arroz para Ensaladas

Use long-grained or basmati rice for Moroccan salads. One salad I sampled in Morocco had a heap of shell pasta in the center of the vegetables instead of rice. Why not?

4 cups water
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 cup long-grain rice
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Bring the water to a boil with the salt. Add the rice, reduce heat and cover the pan. Cook until the rice is al dente, about 12 minutes. Drain the rice thoroughly. Return the hot rice to the pan. Stir in the oil and cover the pan.

When rice is cool, refrigerate until ready to use.

Marinated vegetables are arranged around rice.

Potato Salad
Patatas Aliñadas

Sweet potatoes cut in dice can be prepared in the same manner.

3 cups potatoes cut in ¾-inch dice
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons Salad Dressing I
Chopped parsley

Put potatoes and salt in pan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are tender, about 6 minutes. Drain well. Stir in the salad dressing.

Let the potatoes marinate in the dressing at least 1 hour or, covered and refrigerated, up to 24 hours. Stir in chopped parsley immediately before serving.

Marinated Zucchini
Calabacín en Aliño

1 small (8-ounce) zucchini
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon Salad Dressing I
Chopped parsley

Slice the zucchini thinly crosswise. Place it on a microwave-safe plate and drizzle with oil. Microwave on high for 2 minutes. Place zucchini and juices in a bowl and add 1 teaspoon salt and the salad dressing. Marinate 1 hour or, refrigerated, up to 24 hours.

To serve, lift the zucchini out of the marinade with a slotted spoon. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Green Bean Salad
Ensalada de Judías Verdes

Cook beans in boiling salted water until crisp-tender. Drain and refresh in cold water. Dress with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Beans can be prepared in advance and refrigerated until serving time.

Immediately before serving, stir in Salad Dressing I and chopped parsley.

Carrot Salad
Ensalada de Zanahorias

Butternut squash can be prepared in the same manner as carrots.

2 cups carrots cut in ½-inch dice
2 tablespoons Salad Dressing I

Cook the carrots in salted boiling water until just tender, 4 minutes. Drain and refresh in cold water. Add the dressing to the carrots and marinate at least 1 hour or, refrigerated, up to 24 hours.

Roasted Pepper Salad
Ensalada de Pimientos Asados

Green and/or red peppers
Salad Dressing I

Preheat oven to 500ºF. Cut peppers in half lengthwise, remove stem and seeds and place them, skin side up on a baking sheet. Roast until skins are blistered and somewhat blackened, about 10 minutes.

Cool the peppers. Remove skins and pull the flesh into strips. Combine with salad dressing and marinate for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours.

Orange blossom water adds an exotic hint to this salad.
Grated Carrot Salad
Ensalada de Zanahorias Ralladas

2 cups grated carrots (3 large carrots)
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons Salad Dressing II
Chopped mint

Mix the carrots with salt and salad dressing. Allow to marinate 1 hour or up to 24 hours.

Beet Salad
Ensalada de Remolacha

2 medium beets (12-14 ounces)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons Salad Dressing II
Chopped mint

Cook the whole, unpeeled beets in boiling water until they are tender when pierced with a skewer, about 15 minutes. Drain.

When beets are cool enough to handle, slip off the skins. Cut the beets into ½-inch dice and place in a bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir in the salad dressing. Marinate at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours.

Stir in chopped mint right before serving.

These salads are served in individual bowls instead of on a single platter. Clockwise from top left are chopped zucchini salad, black olives, eggplant salad, coleslaw with pomegranates and cauliflower with preserved lemon and green olives.

Coleslaw with Pomegranate
Ensaladilla de Coles con Granada

3 cups thinly sliced cabbage (about 8 ounces)
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons Salad Dressing I
Pomegranate Seeds
Chopped parsley or mint

Bring a pan of salted water to a boil. Add the cabbage. Return the water to a full boil, then remove from heat and drain the cabbage. Refresh it under cold water. Place in a bowl and season with 1 teaspoon salt and pepper. Add the salad dressing. Let the cabbage marinate at least 1 hour or, refrigerated, up to 24 hours.

Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and chopped mint immediately before serving.

Eggplant Salad (Zeilouk)
Ensalada de Berenjena  

Serve this salad as a dip or spread. Use a potato masher to smash the softened eggplant and tomatoes. It should be mushy, not pureed. The mixture turns very dark as it cools.

2 large eggplant (1 ½  pounds)
½ cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 cups peeled and chopped tomatoes
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sweet pimentón (paprika)
½ teaspoon hot pimentón or pinch cayenne
2 teaspoons cumin
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Lemon juice, if desired
Bread to accompany

Peel the eggplant in stripes, leaving some of the peel. Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise and slice them crosswise.

Heat half the oil in a heavy skillet. Brown half the eggplant slices on both sides. Remove them from heat. Add remaining oil and eggplant to skillet and brown. Remove the eggplant slices.

Add the chopped garlic and tomatoes to the skillet. Return all of the eggplant to the skillet. Season with salt, pimentón, hot pimentón and cumin. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until eggplant is very soft, about 20 minutes.

Mash the eggplant and tomatoes with a potato masher. Return to heat and cook, uncovered, until the mixture is thick and no liquid remains.

Remove from heat. Let eggplant cool, then stir in parsley and lemon juice if desired. Serve room temperature with bread to accompany. 

Cauliflower Salad with Olives
Ensalada de Coliflor con Aceitunas

Salty preserved lemons and olives give cauliflower some character.
4 cups florets of cauliflower (about 1 pound)
3 tablespoons Salad Dressing I
1 tablespoon chopped preserved lemon
2 tablespoons sliced green olives
Chopped parsley

Cook the cauliflower in boiling salted water until crisp-tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain and refresh in cold water. Place in a bowl and add ½ teaspoon salt, the salad dressing and chopped preserved lemon. Marinate at least 1 hour or, refrigerated, up to 24 hours.

To serve, scatter sliced olives and parsley on the cauliflower. 

Chopped Zucchini Salad
Ensaladilla de Calabacín

This simple salad packs a lot of flavor. The trick is to keep the diced zucchini crisp. This salad does not need marinating time. Serve it freshly made.

6 cups water
2 cups diced zucchini (about ¾ pound)
2 tablespoons Salad Dressing I
Chopped onion (optional)
Chopped mint

Combine 2 teaspoons salt with the water. Bring to a boil and add the diced zucchini. Cook 2 minutes. Drain and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking.

Place the zucchini in a bowl and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon salt. Add the salad dressing and chopped onion, if using. Immediately before serving, stir in chopped mint.

(Note: All of the salads pictured here were prepared and photographed in my kitchen in Spain.
©Janet Mendel)

More Moroccan recipes:

Andalusia's twin to Moroccan salad: Pipirrana.

Chopped tomato salad is the perfect accompaniment to grilled chicken brochettes served with Moroccan bread. Salt, cumin and harissa are on the side.  The skewers with cedar-wood handles I bought in Morocco 50 years ago.


  1. I forgot to add that, in eight days traveling around Morocco, with more than 10 different salads, I never once saw lettuce.

  2. Oh my goodness Janet! Thank you for this beautiful tour of Morocco, the gorgeous pictures and wonderful recipes! I don't know which one to prepare first!! Really takes me back....

  3. delightful recipes!

    best... Mae at

  4. As someone who just started really getting into salads this one looks really good. I'm still not sure about tomatoes, but it's wroth a try. Thanks for sharing!