Love Lost, Makhouda Found

Makhouda D’Aubergine 


When I moved to Ireland for a year in 1997, I had one cookbook with me. It was an impulse purchase I had made about two weeks before leaving, and although I hadn’t intended to sacrifice any of my precious luggage allowance to something as frivolous as a cookbook, this particular one seemed to hold me under a spell. It was Kitty Morse’s North Africa: The Vegetarian Table, the first full-price hardback I’d ever bought, cookbooks in those days representing a major financial investment for a starving college student. Although I had amassed quite a collection of cookbooks at home over the years – most of them slim limited-focus volumes I’d found on the bargain table with titles like Philadelphia Cream Cheese Classic Recipes, The Taming of Tofu, or Brownies: Over One Hundred Scrumptious Recipes for More Kinds Than You Ever Dreamed Of* – none of them were close enough to my heart to consider stashing in my bags when I traversed continents. This one, however, was different.

It was a beautiful book of coffee-table quality, with luscious photographs and glossy, elegant print. I kept it on my bedside table in my bleak Trinity College dorm room, and often picked it up to look at the pictures of gilded platters overflowing with jeweled couscous and honeyed tagines. They transported me away from the incessant rain pounding outside my window and took me to sunny places where the scent of woodfires and spices drifted lazily on the breeze, and where vegetarian cooking was exciting and exotic (and didn’t necessarily involve sprouted wheat and soy protein). In addition, whereas all the cookbooks I’d acquired up to that point were just about recipes and exploring slightly different ways to use familiar ingredients, this one was as much about people, culture and geography as it was about food. The only problem was that I had never managed to actually cook anything from it. Despite the fact that I drooled over every recipe and laid out dinner plans in my head that included a feast of luscious North African delicacies, the logistics of the recipes intimidated me – these dishes, as much as I wanted to eat them, were outside my comfort zone and I didn’t even know where to go to find the more exotic ingredients they called for. I was also, I think, secretly afraid of being disappointed, of realizing that this beautiful, mysterious food was not that spectacular after all. Whatever the reason, the book lay there, dog-eared from reading but unused in the kitchen.

About this time I also started dating a guy I had met in Dublin. He had a wonderful Irish accent, but apart from that I can’t quite recall what the attraction was. It certainly wasn’t culinary – this guy had been raised on his mother’s lumpy potatoes and boiled beef and tended to eye anything that hadn’t been mashed, boiled or deep-fried with no small amount of skepticism. I didn’t realize how deep our differences ran, however, until the night I convinced him to accompany me to a newly-opened Indonesian restaurant. Despite the fact that I found the flavors incredibly Westernized, it took all of two bites of an elaborate rijstafel for him to decide that this alien food had no place in his stomach, and all of another minute for him to remind me that I had offered to treat him to this expensive mistake. It was a lesson learned, and should have clued me in to our long-term potential. Instead it took another couple of months of greasy, tasteless meals together before the end came, and even so it was he who dropped the bomb on me, telling me he had decided to get back together with an ex-girlfriend (who was probably as happy eating fish and chips every night as he was).

Needless to say, I was heartbroken, and I moped around for days until a strange idea for redemption took shape. Out of spite as much as hunger I decided to prepare an elaborate meal I knew he would have hated – the kind of exotic, spicy, opulent food I had been denied while dating him, and I would invite all the friends I could find to share it with me. And of course it would be North African – after all, it was the only cookbook I had. I scoured the city high and low for ethnic food shops and finally found everything I needed; I set a date and invited everyone to my tiny university kitchen to share in my first nervous foray into this unknown cuisine. Luckily, I needn’t have worried – the dinner was a huge hit. From the syrupy pumpkin and prune tagine, to the assortment of hot and cold vegetable mezze to the brimming pot of fragrant couscous, everything I made was spectacular. The undisputed star of the evening, however, was something unexpected – it was a Tunisian specialty called a makhouda d’aubergine, a thick, spicy frittata oozing sweetly stewed onions, peppers and eggplant, chunky cubes of gruyère cheese and a wonderfully aromatic spice blend of cinnamon, pepper and rose petals. It was heavenly – and has been each and every one of the dozens of times I’ve made it since.

Years later, my memory of that particular guy is rather hazy; the memory of that meal, however, is still crystal-clear. And to be honest, I’m much happier having the makhouda around instead of him.

*I kid you not.

Makhouda D’Aubergine

Source: Kitty Morse’s North Africa: The Vegetarian Table
Serves: 4-6
Notes: Serve this as a side dish with sweet or savory tagines, or as a light main course with a fresh green salad. Tunisians also apparently love to stick slices of it inside crusty bread spread with a little harissa and eat it as a sandwich.

1 large eggplant
salt for sprinkling
1/4 cup (60ml) olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded, deribbed and diced
8 large eggs
a handful (about 1/2 cup packed) chopped fresh parsley or coriander/cilantro leaves, or a mixture (I use coriander)
4 garlic cloves, minced
8 oz (225g) gruy
ère cheese, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1/2 cup (50g) dried bread crumbs
1 teaspoon bharat (Tunisian spice blend; you can substitute 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon rosewater)
about 3/4 teaspoon fine salt

harissa (North African hot pepper paste) or cayenne pepper, to taste (optional) 
lemon wedges 

Peel and cut the eggplant into 1/2-inch dice. Sprinkle generously with salt and place the cubes in a colander to drain for about 20 minutes. Rinse and pat dry with paper towels.

Preheat the oven to 400F/200C. In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the olive oil and cook the eggplant, onion, and pepper, stirring occasionally until golden and soft, about 20-25 minutes. Transfer this mixture to a colander to drain off as much of the oil as possible.

In a medium bowl, mix the eggs and add the herbs, garlic, cheese and bread crumbs. Add the eggplant mixture. Season with the bharat, salt, and a small spoonful of the optional harissa or cayenne pepper.

Grease a 2-quart soufflé dish. Pour the egg mixture into the dish and bake in the middle of the oven until golden brown and puffed in the center, 40-45 minutes (a knife inserted into the center should come out clean). Let cool for 10 minutes before unmolding onto a serving platter (you can also just leave it in the dish). Cut into wedges or squares to serve. Serve hot or at room temperature with lemon wedges on the side. 


40 thoughts on “Love Lost, Makhouda Found

  1. Strange, isn’t it- the food is consumed within minutes, while the men (or women, as the case may be) often linger through our lives for days, months, or even years. And still, at the end of it all, that fleeting bite, mere seconds of our lives, remains, and the rest just fades away. I can even remember meals cooked by men better than the men themselves, sometimes.The book sounds divine. I’ll be keeping my own eyes open for it on the discount table.

  2. I read this article with a big smile on my face from start to finish. I enjoyed it so much.I can relate to your feeling re: your ex-boyfriend. I’m a moroccan born, french raised and married to a pure whool canadian. My family in law often ask me to "please, cook something normal for once", not realizing their norms are very different than mine :-))I didn’t know Makhouda. I know very little about tunisian cuisine. Certainly a fine recipe to try soon.I never thought about north-african vegetarian cooking the way you think about it. I can’t agree more with your thoughts about it.Thank you for (yet again) a great article and a great recipe.

  3. Very funny Melissa. I once had a boyfriend too who was just waiting for me to finish my plate so that in case of leftovers, he woulld gulp them down, and I thought "this is just not right". Sharing food interests is so key! (I am lucky, I got an Irish one who is beyond potatoes! πŸ˜‰ I have at least 4 North African cookbooks and I had not heard about this dish, so I will try it for sure! Love the contrast of the orange in the back of the picture!

  4. Oh, I’m so glad you like Kitty Morse! I also have one of her books, Cooking at the Kasbah, and I have been amazed at how splendid each recipe has been that I’ve made from it. I love cookbooks that are both reliable and horizon-broadening at the same time…

  5. Ijust wanted to add, about Kitty Morse. As far as I know, she probably is the chef-writer who is the most loyal to North African cuisine authenticity.

  6. hi melissa, beautifully evocative prose and picture, as always. a couple of cheap as chips penguin cookery paperbacks on my bedside table saw me through those endlessly looming essay deadlines and dreary hall dinners in my college years, and one of them was claudia roden’s new book of middle eastern food – i must have cooked my way through every single kuku and eggah recipe of hers!

  7. As all of the others, I really enjoyed reading your post. (and quietly envy your super way with words, :))I love North African quisine, just started with it more often recently. Your recipe sounds nice, I will be making it tomorrow with a classic Morrocan Chicken Tagine.Where did you get that old-looking spoon? It looks so right for the meal.

  8. Brilliant post! I so know what you mean. While married, I hardly cooked any fish dishes because my husband hated fish and would sulk if I served it to others if he was part of the dinner party. The first two weeks I was free, I ate fish every single day! I love the look of this dish and am always on the look out for vegetarian dishes because a good friend is one. Thanks for a lovely post & recipe!

  9. Brava, Melissa!Isn’t it interesting how intertwined food and love are … I guess it’s true what the say … revenge is a dish best served cold (or however you choose)!You’ve made that cookbook come to life. I shall keep my eyes open for it.

  10. I love your story, Melissa. I’m fortunate enough to be able to share all my food experiences with my husband. I’ve never tried African food tho’.

  11. Hi Melissa,What a wonderful story. It’s always a pleasure to visit because every dish you prepare has some sort of meaning for you. The photography is excellent, as always!

  12. lovely food writing. i got to style (food style) Morse’s book called Couscous, and enjoyed making all of the recipes. i’m not a big fan of the red pepper in general, but when cooked in this sort of thing, sometimes i do like it. do you know the red pepper spread called Muhumara? made with toated pine nuts, walnuts or almonds? if not, i think you’d really like it.

  13. Manuel must be very pleased that your ex didn’t share your culinary passions:) Great story, and the recipe sounds very tempting. I agree with Dreska – that spoon suits the dish so well!

  14. mel, should have trotted your way down to the dept of genetics – plenty of guys around here who cook! surprising, coming from a bunch of people whom outsiders perceived as geeks/nerds… i’ve been blessed with many great adventurous foodies around here! πŸ™‚

  15. Eggplant and gruyere? How can I resist? Sounds like you had a fabulous "post-breakup" meal. What a way to lift the spirits again huh! Im glad Manuel is such a great culinary partner in crime for you, he’s a lucky man to be able to eat all these wonderful things you make!

  16. Hi Melissa, how are you?I can’t imagine living with a meat-and-potatos-only kind of man.No, no, and yet again no! Can you imagine never being able to share something fascinating with a man you love (yeah, Melissa, I know you can)…. I can’t.I don’t think I’d be into the makouda as I’m not too fond of eggplant, but I think it’ll work just as well with zucchini (would it?).I’ve heard about rijstaffel, and it sounds utterly scrumptious. hmmm you’re talking about your days in college, and I just got back from shopping for Frushi (Friday Sushi)… see, I teach salsa at a club in the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus here in Jerusalem. I’m part of a crew – and one of the instructors, Doron, has this tradition in which every Friday away from home, he invites friends over for sushi. All of us except for me are University students. So in this labyrinth of buildings known as the Idelson Dorms, we meet tonight to cook with friends. I’m in charge of the miso soup and the sushi rice, and he takes care of the rest. Others will bring the wine and the company. :-)Interesting things happen with young people!

  17. Melissa,I just love reading your blog and am always looking forward to a new article! Thanks for a great new recipe to try.AnnieGreenwich, Connecticut

  18. I’ve always been interested in North African cuisine, but being on the other side of the world, I’ve just never had the chance to try it. This recipe, however, sounds like a delicious place to start. πŸ™‚

  19. Hi Raspberry Sour – So true! Of course, I’ve often wondered if that was just my food-obsessed brain pushing out the more important stuff in favor of the dinner memories…Hi Zoubida – Thank you! I can certainly understand the need for familiar food, but I hope your husband’s family is also eager to experience some of the more exotic delights you offer. After all, who wants to eat the same kind of food all the time? πŸ™‚ Also, thanks for your opinion on Kitty Morse – I’m glad to hear that her recipes are not only delicious, but authentic too.Hi Bea – Ah yes, the importance of shared food habits is very underrated – to me it’s obviously one of the most important aspects of a relationship, though somehow it never seems to get the attention it deserves in all those magazine questionnaires designed to tell you if your relationship will last… That said, it sounds like we both ended up pretty lucky!Hi David – As they say, "every lousy date has a silver lining…"Hi Gini – I hope you like it! :)Hi Luisa – I’ve had Cooking at the Kasbah recommended so many times by now that I think I’ll have to track down a copy (yeah, right, twist my arm!). Any recipes in particular you’d recommend?Hi Zarah Maria – I think just about any recipe would have been worth giving him up for, but hey, I’m not bitter or anything! πŸ˜‰ Hi J – Thank you my dear, and it sounds like we suffered through much of the same culinary deprivation in our college years… Just out of curiosity, do you still have/use those old cookbooks?Hi Dreska – Thank you, and I hope you liked the recipe! That spoon is one of my favorites, and I picked it up as part of an assortment of old, rotten cutlery at a fleamarket. The great thing is that some of the most atmospheric props are those that nobody else wants!Hi MM – I’m glad to hear you finally got your fill of fish! While I’m the first to agree that a big part of relationships is compromise, sometimes it is nice to be able to revel in something we’ve been denied for a long time. And being a former vegetarian myself, I can safely say that with this on the table no vegetarian will feel unloved! Hi Ivonne – Or in this case, served hot and slightly spicy ;)Hi Cin – Thank you, and isn’t it a wonderful thing to have a like-minded partner when it comes to food? Cooking wouldn’t be half as much fun!Hi Reid – Thank you! I also appreciate the chance to reflect on why certain dishes mean more to me than others – for example, I had been making this for so long that I had almost forgotten the original story behind it!Hi Kat & Satoshi – Thank you!Hi Bettina – That’s very interesting, did you actually work with Kitty Morse personally? I’ve heard she’s a wonderful person. Do you still work in food styling? What a dream job! πŸ™‚ Btw, I discovered muhummara a couple of months ago and loved it! Pille – I’ve never asked him, but I would certainly hope so!Hi Lil – Well, I guess I was in the wrong department – you’re lucky to have friends like that! Then again, I think a lot of things have changed in Ireland over the last decade since I studied there, not least of which is a broadening of food horizons. Who knows – my ex might just be scarfing down Indonesian rijstafel with gusto by now!Michele, I knew this would be right up your alley. I would FedEx some over to you, but wait – now that you have an oven you can make it yourself! And yes, I’m certainly blessed with Manuel, though I suspect sometimes he wonders if the reverse is true when he steps on the scale in the morning…Hi Malka – Now of course I can’t imagine what life would have been like if I had stayed with him…not that I had much choice in the matter as it turned out! As for the recipe, I don’t think you should let your lack of fondness for eggplant stop you from making this. I think zucchini would be perfectly delicious, as would spinach or perhaps even more peppers. Maybe it’ll be just the thing for your next salsa night? :)Hi Annie – Thank you, and I hope you enjoy it!Hi Embla – Never having been to North Africa either, I can’t guarantee it’s exactly what you’d taste there, but it’s certainly good enough to make me very eager to go! πŸ™‚

  20. Hi Melissa, thanks for a very nice story…even though it was not a ‘happy’ ending to the relationship, but at the end…it was all for the better πŸ™‚ It’s cool the fact that you mentioned about Indonesian resto…I’m Indonesian. And it’s true that Indonesian restaurants you’ll find overseas "outside Indo" will be similarly westernized in tastes…too bad but that’s what the customers want I guess…the food is much much better if you get a chance to travel to Indonesia, I guarantee you πŸ™‚ Love all the dishes you made…

  21. Hi Melissa What a wonderful story. What a person chooses to eat is so related to their type of personality. I have dated a couple of guys who have had the worst taste in food needless to say the relationships never lasted. I am now married to a wonderful man who shares my passion.

  22. Melissa, I enjoyed reading your post. Love is inevitably intertwined with food! I was planning on buying a North African cookbook, now I know which one. Thanks!

  23. hey melissa. loved that photo of the dish. I simply love aubegines in any form. I’m a fellow food blogger from Singapore. I added your blog as a link to mine, I hope you don’t mind. Great blogging!

  24. Wonderful post. I think the food and love compo rings true for all of us. So happy you could at least highlight the love lost in style with some much needed culinary interest. wonderful read, keep it up πŸ™‚

  25. Hi Maya – Oh yes, I know what you mean! I was in Indonesia (Bali) about six years ago, and the food was a hundred times better than any Indonesian food I’d had before. In fact it was so good that I’ve never felt my own attempts did it justice, but maybe I’ll have to give it another shot.Hi GastroChick – I agree! In retrospect I realize it never could have been true love without any shared tastes.Hi Ashwini – I can highly recommend this one, and several people have commented that Kitty Morse’s other book ‘Cooking at the Kasbah’ is excellent as well. If you’d like a more anthropological approach to North African food, I can suggest Paula Wolfert’s ‘Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco’ – it’s a classic, though some of the recipes are a little more difficult.Hi Shaz – Thank you, and I hope this has given you another aubergine dish to add to your arsenal!Hi Katy – Absolutely, and I’m starting to suspect that for anyone really passionate about food, there must be some events in their life where food and love intertwined, for better or for worse!

  26. I’ve followed your blog a while. Saw this and ment to try it. Angelika from the has brought it back to may attention and we’ll be having this by Tuesday. Food is all about nourishment but not just the body. Love your blog. Thanks.

  27. Hi Tanna – thanks for your kind comment. If you’d like to send me an email I’d be happy to send you recipe for the pumpkin and prune tagine.

  28. hi melissaI just made this tonight for my friends and it was amazing! We were all feeling tired, run down and stressed with revision for finals and this brought a smile to all our faces (and tummies!)Good luck with the PhD and I look forward to reading more of your fantastic entries soon. xxx

  29. I loved the story! and the dish sounds awesome. I’m always looking for a new version of sunday morning frittatas and this is it!Thanks for sharing.

  30. I made this dish tonight. It is wonderful. I didn’t have the bharat so I looked up a recipe for it on Arabic news. I turned out perfectly. I too would love the recipe for the Pumpkin Tagine. I have ordered the cookbook from Amazon based on your reference. I love your Blog, very well organized.

  31. wow, this sounds so good. I love eggplant. I am starting a catering business, doing what I love! To cook and eat!So I will definetely try this.

  32. i made this today and it was delicious! i live in venice and so i used squaquerone, which is a very soft cheese instead of the gruyere….i think it would also be good with ricotta!

  33. I've just made it for lunch and it is delicious! I've used simple Gouda cheese (and had maybe 150 g) because Gruyere is not available in my country.

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