You can’t write a post about matbucha, the Moroccan cooked tomato salad without writing about Yeruham. The cooked salad and the small town in the Negev Desert of Israel go together. The aroma of tomatoes cooking with garlic and peppers being charred over an open flame is the aroma of this town – on a late morning on Friday almost every house or building you stepped into would have that smell.
Just a little background, Yeruham is where I grew up until I was twelve years old, and where my maternal grandparents arrived and settled when they did aliyah from Morocco almost 60 years ago. Settling in the southern part of Israel wasn’t their choice, but it’s where the young government of Israel put them – a long story. Until I had my children, I resented this dreary town. Mostly because it was small, unattractive, and right in the middle of nowhere – the usual reasons most people don’t like small towns. But as I have grown older, wiser, and well traveled, I have begun to understand what it is people see in this place. After my little sister Inbar died (and was buried there, according to her wishes) I completely gave up my judgments and learned to appreciate the desert. No place in the world could have comforted me the way this place did while I was grieving and aching. The silent of the desert muted my dark thoughts, the sunny bright days showed me the light and the kindness and warmth of the locals warmed my heart. It was the only place I felt safe and at peace with the hell that I was going through.
Yeruham is very much like Salada Matbucha. It’s not pretty, it has no fancy name, it has no sophistication – but it has a soul and an incredible ability to comfort. Especially when life smacks you in the face without mercy.
Matbucha is only one of many cooked salads traditionally prepared by Moroccan Jews every Friday for Shabbat and holiday dinners. This is my mother’s matbucha. If I had to choose one Moroccan dish to represent Jewish Moroccan culture, this would definitely be it. (It’s more like a tomato and pepper jam, or a dip, than it is a salad – but that’s what Moroccans call it.)
“Home Bread” is a traditional bread eaten by Moroccan Jews with matbucha, and which they would NEVER pass up on making for Shabat.
This cooked tomato salad is usually made with ripe plum tomatoes, but I used a bunch of extra ripe heirloom tomatoes that nobody wanted to eat.
This is my mother’s kitchen. I don’t know how she keeps her kitchen spotless when she cooks. I admire her for that.
There are few slightly differences between this recipe and the traditional recipe:
- When one pound tomatoes cost more then five pair of socks at Old Navy I use canned ones – something my mother, God forbid!, would never approve.
- When I don’t have time to burn the peppers I cooked them straight in.
- I use olive oil instead of canola oil. Both taste good, but olive oil is healthier.
The key to a successful matbucha is ripe tomatoes and minimum two hours simmering.
To burn the peppers:
Put a grilling wire over the stove burner over high heat. Place the peppers over and occasionally turn them over (you can use tongs) when their the skin is blackened). Let the peppers cool before you peel their skin. It’s easier to peel them with wet fingers. So do it over the faucet with the water running. DON’T wash the peppers.
- 2 pounds ripe plum or heirloom tomatoes or 2 cans of whole peeled tomatoes
- 8 - 10 medium size garlic cloves, peeled
- 2 - 3 hot green peppers (not bell peppers)
- 2 tablespoons sweet paprika mixed in ½ cup olive oil or canola oil
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Peel the tomatoes with a sharp knife or a tomato peeler, quarter them and put them in a heavy bottom pot. Put the pot on medium heat and bring to boil. Meanwhile cut the peppers into strips and add them to the pot. Add the garlic too and stir.
- Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 1 hour - stirring occasionally to prevent the tomatoes from scorching.
- When most of the liquids have evaporated, add the paprika-oil mixture into the pot. Continue to simmer, but now, instead of stirring, use a potato masher or a big fork to mash the tomatoes occasionally. Simmer for 1 hour until all of the liquid has evaporated completely and the texture resembles an oily jam.