A spicy aubergine dip with halloumi and a vegetarian take on the countrys signature pie

At least once a day this winter I have found myself mentally wandering the streets of Marrakech. There is something about it that I crave on grey, winter days; there is something warm and generous about Morocco, qualities made obvious by its food. The free-handed use of warming spice, the liberal use of sweetness in savoury dishes, the overflowing flavours.

This week I made two things I have loved eating there the most: zaalouk, a cousin of baba ganoush; and a sweet-potato pastilla – a messy, heady, spiced filo pie. And now I’m off to search for flights.

Spiced aubergines with halloumi (zaalouk – pictured above)

Half dip, half salad, and Morocco’s answer to baba ganoush. I eat this as a meal with grilled halloumi (as I suggest here), some flatbreads and a good green salad, but it would be brilliant as part of a meze or starter. Vegans could use firm tofu in place of the halloumi, or just leave it out. Thanks to my friend, the cook and writer John Gregory Smith, for the inspiration.

Prep 5 min
Cook 30 min
Serves 2

2 aubergines
600g tomatoes
1 pinch cumin seeds
1 pinch smoked paprika
Olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
Salt and black pepper
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tbsp red-wine vinegar
½ tsp sugar
200g halloumi,slicedlengthways

Blacken the aubergines all over, either under a hot grill on a foil-lined tray, or by turning them with tongs over a lit gas hob. Make sure they char completely, then leave them to cool so that the skin comes away from the flesh.

For an authentic finish, peel the tomatoes (though I sometimes skip this step if I am in a hurry): score a cross in the base of the fruit, then cover them with just-boiled water. Leave for 30 seconds to a minute, then drain and cool slightly before peeling off the skin. Chop finely.

Heat the spices in a frying pan until fragrant. Add the oil, tomatoes and garlic, season well and fry for a few minutes, until the tomatoes start to break down. Stir through the tomato puree, vinegar and sugar, then squeeze the flesh from the charred aubergine into the tomatoes. Simmer for 20 minutes, until thickened slightly.

Meanwhile, heat a griddle pan over a high heat. Cook the halloumi on it for two minutes on each side, then s. Serve it on top of the warm dip. Drizzle with extra-virgin oil, and scoop it all up with warm flatbreads.

Sweet potato and feta pastilla

I use a frying pan for this to ensure the bottom of the pastilla crisps up. Keep the filo sheets in the fridge until needed, or under a damp tea towel, to stop them drying out. Vegans could use a vegan-friendly filo (which many of the supermarket brands are): replace the butter with a vegan spread and leave out the feta (or switch to a vegan cheese).

Anna Jones’ sweet potato and feta pastilla.

Prep 15 min
Cook 1 hr 10 min
Serves 6-8

850g sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks
1 tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp cinnamon, plus extra to sprinkle
Olive oil, for drizzling
Salt and black pepper
50g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing, and another 25g, melted, for brushing the filo
3 large red onions, finely sliced
1 large bunch parsley, finely chopped
200g feta cheese, crumbled
1 handful skin-on almonds
10 sheets filo pastry

Heat the oven to 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6. Toss the sweet potato, cumin and cinnamon in a roasting tray with a good drizzle of olive oil, season well, then roast for 30 minutes, until softened. Once cooked, mash well, or pulse briefly in a food processor until smooth but with some texture.

Meanwhile, heat 50g butter in a large frying pan, and fry the onion on a medium heat with a pinch each of salt and pepper for at least 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden and beginning to caramelise.

Stir the onions into the sweet potato mash, add the parsley, feta and almonds, and mix to combine.

Grease a 20cm deep frying pan with butter. Brush or rub the melted butter over both sides of the filo sheets, then lay seven of the buttered sheets on the base of the pan. They usually come in rectangles, so try to lay them in a star shape with an overhang around the pan edge. Spoon the filling into the pan and smooth it out with the back of a wooden spoon, then lay the remaining sheets on top and fold over the overhang.

Scrunch the edges a little to form a messy look round the edge of the pie and bake for 30 minutes, until the filo is crisp and lightly golden. Leave to cool, then serve straight from the pan or tip on to a board to slice. Delicious warm or cold; I serve this with a crisp green salad and some harissa and yoghurt spooned over the top.

Read more: www.theguardian.com