Moroccan Chicken M’qualli or mqalli with its sweet butternut paste: M’derbel of pumpkin

At this time of the year, pumpkin, butternut squash and co seem to be everywhere here in London. It was the same thing in Germany where I lived before. I’ve seen different shapes and form which I have never seen before in my life.

Being from Morocco, I’m more accustomed to the giant pumpkin and an another weird version mostly found in El Oualidia (a small coastal town in Morocco).

The other thing is that I always literally hated this vegetable along with its family and cousins. But never say never!

Having a little one in the house, I’m trying to be a good mother and get him to try every vegetable I can get hold of. Being Moroccan, we mostly like vegetables. Most of our Tagines, couscous and stews come with vegetables and we love them when they’re in season. It won’t go down well if my boy is not a big vegetable eater. So far so good.

Despite the fact that the recipe I’m posting today is usually topped with a pumpkin paste, I have used 100% butternut and another time 50% – 50% butternut-pumpkin. The only difference is in the colour and the level of natural sweetness but other than that, It won’t hurt alternating or mixing the two (or any other similar sort).

This is another sweet-savoury tagine that you would want to add to your Moroccan cooking repertoire because it’s a winner. It’s initially served during Eid Al Mawlid in Fes, Meknes and the region, but we can have a feast whenever we want, can’t we?

Although this recipe does not initially have Ras el hanout in it but you could add a good pinch in the stew but besides that, please do not add anything else if you intend to cook an authentic dish.

The other thing I would like to mention about this subtitle marriage of flavours is that the people of Fes and region who are famous with the sweet-savoury combos do not usually add garlic in a tagine or stew for which the topping tend to be sweetened. However, in this case, the 1 clove of garlic is ok since the pumpkin is not as sweet as a prune or a caramelized apricot.

Here are the ingredients for about 4 hungry people. However, as we usually do back home, we use our eyes and senses to measure.

Serves 4 to 6  

For the chicken Mqalli

  • 1 medium free range chicken cut in 6 pieces (or use tender lamb cuts)
  • 2 larges yellow onions, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp of oil
  • 1 tsp of smen (Moroccan cured aged salted butter), optional
  • 1 tbsp of ground ginger
  • 1 tsp of turmeric
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 1 clove of garlic, grated or finely chopped (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp of black or white pepper
  • A good pinch of saffron threads

For the pumpkin or/and butternut paste

  • 600 g of pumpkin flesh cut into chuncks
  • 6 tbsp of plain vegetable oil (traditional recipes call for even more)
  • 1/2 tsp of salt
  • 1 tbsp of ground cinnamon
  • 4 tbsps of honey or sugar (original recipes may call for 3 times more for a better caramelization)
  • A pinch of mastic gum (optional)

To decorate

  • 1 tbsp of toasted sesame seeds



Chicken Mqalli

Follow the directions of a normal chicken Mqalli as previously mentioned here but with today’s ingredients.

This step should take about 60 minutes. Make sure the sauce is well reduced. In case the chicken (or meat) is cooked but you still have a significant amount of liquid, take it out and cover it while you reduce the sauce or Marka as we call it.

The chicken pieces can be served without roasting them but we prefer them roasted for 10 minutes at maximum temperature (use the grill/broiler), just for a nice colour.

Pumpkin/squash paste (can be made ahead and frozen)

This puree can be served in today’s sweet and savoury tagine but it can also be served as a cooked salad, either cold or at room temperature.

Steam the chunks, scrape off the flesh and mash it (discard the peeled stuff). You can make this ahead of time, I have some mashed butternut in my freezer as we speak (flattened in a ziploc bag).

To fry/caramelize the paste, you will need to dedicate a good 20 minutes to this task without leaving the pan unattended.

Over medium-high heat, keep stiring the mash until it’s almost dry.

Add the rest of the ingredients and fry/caramelize at the same time for about 8 to 10 min or until you are satisfied with taste and texture of the paste.

The colour of the paste depends on the type of pumpkin family used but also on
how much honey and sugar you add to it


Pour a few spoons of the onion sauce in the middle of the serving plate (or make a small thick puddle). Place the chicken/meat on top and then top with the pumpkin paste.

Sprinkle the dish with toasted sesame seeds. Serve any extra pumpkin/squash puree in a side dish.

Note: There is something special about the temperature of the layers served in this dish: while the chicken and its sauce should be served hot, the pumpkin/squash paste can be serve just about warm or at least at room temperature.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s