Moroccan pumpkin jam salad with sesame seeds on top

Moroccan sweet Mderbel of pumpkin or butternut


Mderbel (*) of pumpkin is a traditional cooked salad in Fez. It also gets served on the top of a nice Mqualli of chicken or meat especially during the remembrance of the Prophet Mohammed’s (SAAS) birth.

It can be served cold as a salad or warm when it’s served as accompaniement to the meat.

The traditional recipe is generous on oil and sugar, but it’s so tasty. You could be tempted to adjust the sugar and oil for dietary purposes which is fine, but I suggest you try the combination I’m giving here before changing it.

Moroccan pumpkin jam salad with sesame seeds on top

Moroccan pumpkin jam salad or Mderbel. Credit @Nada Kiffa



Serves 8
Prep: 10 min- Cooking: 30 – 40 min

  • About 800 g of pumpkin or butternut flesh cut into chuncks, discard seeds (**)
  • 1/4 cup of vegetable or olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp of salt
  • 1 1/2 tbsp of ground cinnamon
  • 5-6 tbsps of honey or sugar (original recipes may call for more which gives a better caramelization)
  • A good pinch of mastic gum, crushed to powder with 1/2 tsp of caster sugar

To decorate (can be made ahead and frozen)

  • 1 tbsp of toasted sesame seeds


A typical traditional version of Mderbel could render some frying oil and will look darker.



  • Steam the chuncks (you could leave the skin on for now).
  • When they’re tender, transfer them to a warm frying/sauce pan with maximum flat surface. Add the oil, salt, cinnamon, sugar and start mashing as you toss and stir.
  • Keep doing this over medium heat for about 15 mins. Taste to see if it’s relatively sweet (it should not be so sweet like a jam).
  • To fry/caramelize the paste, you will need to dedicate a good 20 minutes to this task without leaving the pan unattended. Past the 15 min, add mastic gum and keep tossing and stirring.
  • The pumpkin/butternut mash so dry from water and become thick. Once you are satisfied with the colour and texture, knock off the heat and set aside to cool.
  • Serve cold as a salad.
A Mderbel of butternut looks lighter than pumpkin due to their difference in colour
  • Note: 
  • (*) Mderbel refers to a ingredient or a mix which has been mashed, tossed and stirred all in one cooking process. We have Mderbel of aubergine, Mderbel of pumpkin and Mderbel of cauliflower but they are savoury and made iwth chermoula.
  • (**) You could mash the steamed pumpkin and freeze it. You will only have to deal with the second stage of cooking when you need to make this recipe.
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Moroccan shrimp and vegetable triangles (briouates)

These light briouats are just good for a quick savoury bite, as a starter to a lunch or dinner, as an afternoon snack. They’re also perfect for buffets and gathering.

Like I explained in my previous post about Moroccan rolls with pickles, there are some Chinese ingredients which have found their way to the Moroccan pantry for years now. I’m thinking rice vermicelli, fish sauce and soy sauce. So do not be surprised if you find these in some Moroccan recipes.

As for briouats which means (small letters/envelops), they’re triangular bites looking like samosas. We usually use Moroccan warqa/ouarka (thin sheets which you can replace with brik or phyllo) to wrap a filling. They were/are usually fried but, having had a father who always suffered from staggering levels of cholesterol, we’ve been baking anything briouats or sbiaats (rolls) since I can ever remember.

Baking briouats and sbiaats preserve the flavours and is better for your health, which makes these little bites very healthy.

Now you may have seen these pictures posted more than 2 years in the blog’s facebook page. I just get to post the recipe which is more of a guideline.

Serves 8 as a starter
Prep: 20 min- baking: 13-15 min


  • 300 g of uncooked shrimp/prawn, shelled and finely chopped or ground (replace with chicken breast if you don’t like shrimps)
  • 200 g of white filet of fish (cod, whiting..)
  • 1/2 cup of green peppers, chopped
  • 1/4 cup of onions or shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 cup of zucchini/courgette, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup of button mushroom or anything available, chopped
  • 1 cup of carrots, grated
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 2 tbps of coriander, chopped
  • 1 tsp of chives, chopped
  • 1/4 cup of grated cheese (Edam, cheddar..)
  • 1/2 tsp of ground ginger or 1 tsp freshly grated
  • 3 leaves of lettuce
  • 2 tbps of soy sauce
  • 1 hot chili, finely chopped (optional)
  • 3 tbps of olive oil
  • Black and white pepper to taste
  • Salt to taste

For wrapping

  • A few ouarka/phyllo/brik sheets at room temperature
  • 70 g of clarified butter, melted

Serve with this mix

  • 3 tbsp of soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp of white vinegar or lemon juice
  • Harissa to taste



In a fairly hot pan, add the oil followed by vegetables and garlic. Stir.

Add the spices, the shrimps and the fish filet into big pieces. Stir. Cook for a few minutes. Keep the vegetables al-dente and reduced from any excess liquid. Set aside to cool, preferably in a strainer

Squeeze the mix before using, mix the cheese, the soy sauce, the herbs and shredded or chopped lettuce in. Stir.

Take strips of warka/ouarka or phyllo, Brush with butter from one side. Form briouates (triangles) or sbiaates (rolls) or even mini-pies (bastilla) and seal.

The same recipe shaped as mini-bastillas (Moroccan pies)

You could use egg yolk for that if you really have to but I just place the end at the bottom so it seals itself while baking.

Preheat the oven at 180-190 degrees C. Cover a baking tray with parchment or just oil it.
Bake for 10-12 minutes. Flip them to make sure they’re nicely golden from both sides.

Serve warm or at room temperature (maximum a couple of hours after baking them).


Cured Moroccan meslalla in a sieve

Moroccan cracked olives: Meslalla


The olive tree is a big thing in Morocco. They grow all over the country with some concentrations in specific Area. There is a belief that whoever uproots an olive tree and let it die could be cursed and damned.

Moroccan picholine is the most common olive which seems to represent more than 95% of the national production. It’s also the one with a high extraction percentage of oil.

Besides Moroccan picholine comes the Meslalla, Dahbia, Hamrani and a few other varieties mostly shared with Spain and the rest of the Mediterranean countries.

Meslalla before treatment, just after being picked

In Fez, everyone is expecting the beginning of the harvest season with excitement and a lot of expectations. Many households still cure their olives at home and most of the family know someone who would extract the olive oil they’ll be using for the next year. I don’t even know if any Fassi has ever bought an industrially extracted and bottled olive oil. It all comes from traditionally extracting facilities called “Ma’assras“.

Separating the olives by colour, the purple ones will be slit 
and left in a brine while the green-looking one will serve for meslalla recipes. 
They could also be left as part of meslalla mix

Meslalla is an olive for olive-addict people and not for amateur looking for sweet or acidic olives because it’s not an acidic olive (as opposed to the usual green olive) nor sweet. It’s slightly bitter and that’s what most of people like cooking with it and marinating it for days. There is that extra layer of taste that makes it exceptional.


Brining and curing Meslalla

After picking the olives, we separate the green ones from the others (discard the black ones if any). The olives are washed and left to dry for a few hours. We usually leave them out in the air.

The green-looking olives should be smashed using a small rock or a heavy pestle. It’s important not to break or shatter the stone inside. The fact of smashing the flesh of the olive helps it maturing in the brine, slitting is not the best option for meslalla.


Delicately smashing the flesh of the olive without breaking the stone inside


Meslalla olives are mixed with salt (optional) or and lemon wedges and placed in a big jar or a deep container. We cover the whole thing with water and seal.

The reason why some people add salt is to help tenderizing the olives faster. In case you don’t need the whole bulk immediately, you can omit the salt. As for the lemon, it’s meant to keep the olives from darkening.

Because we usually handle about 15 kgs of Meslalla in the beginning of the harvest season, my family prefers to keep them in their initial brine and only treat a small quantity (kilo by kilo as we go) for immediate use.

Meslalla olives are very bitter and no one can really eat them as they are. So here is how we handle this.

After the first brine where we prefer to keep the bulk of Meslalla, we only take what is going to be used for the next month and we handle it as follows:

Handling the bitterness of Meslalla

To get rid of the Meslalla’s bitterness, we leave the olives in water and we change it a few times throughout a period of 8 to 15 days, depending how we like them. My mother likes an slightly bitter after taste while I prefer them with hardly  bitterness noticeable.

The desired amount of Meslalla is placed in a deep container and it should be covered with cold water.

After 2 days, we discard the water and cover with new  cold water. We repeat this operation 3 to 5 times.

At this stage, Meslalla is ready for cooking or marinating.


Marinating Meslalla

Meslalla is usually marinated and left to infuse in a nice lemony chermoula and crushed preserved lemons.

You could chermoula-marinate Meslalla lightly or heavily to your liking

We usually serve chermoula-marinated Meslalla as part of an olive spread in the beginning of a meal including for breakfast.

Chermoula-marinated meslalla can keep for a good month in a fridge or a cold part of the house, properly covered.

Dry chermoula marinated Meslalla


A lemony chermoula-marinated meslalla with a generous amount of preserved
lemon in the mix

Now that Meslalla is ready for use, let’s discover what it is good for, in the next posts.



Moroccan sweet potato starter with chermoula

Still on the topic of using sweet potatoes in Moroccan cooking. Here is another starter or cooked salad with a savoury note (see here for a sweet version of this starter).

The use of Moroccan chermoula in this recipe balances the natural sweetness of the sweet potatoes and I think it’s a dish you have to try.

Serves 3 to 4 
Prep: 5 min – Cooking: 25 min

1st set of ingredients

  • 2 medium-size sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 medium-size onion, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • 1 tbps of olive oil
  • 1 heaped tbsp of chopped coriander and parsley
  • 1/2 tsp of turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp of sweet paprika
  • 1/2 tsp of ground cumin
  • A pinch of cayenne (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp of salt or to taste

Finish and garnish

  • 1 tbsp of olive oil
  • 1 tbsp of lemon juice
  • Coriander (optional, I used cress for a green touch)
  • Green olives (optional)



Peel and dice the sweet potatoes into small cubes. Chop the onions.

Place an adequate cooking pot over medium heat. Sauté the onions first in oil for a couple of minutes. Add the garlic all the diced sweet potatoes and cover to 2/3 with water. Let simmer for 10 minutes, covered.

Uncover the pot and add all the spices and herbs. Let simmer and reduce for another 15 minutes. Stir a couple of times and check if the pot needs water.

Finish with the garnishing ingredients and stir delicately.

Serve warm or at least at room temperature, never cold from the fridge.