You can’t write a post about matbucha (Moroccan cooked 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 my hometown – on a late morning on every Friday every house and building you walk into would have that smell.
Just a little background, I grew up in Yerucham until I was about twelve years old, it’s where my maternal grandparents arrived and settled 60 years ago when they did aliyah from Morocco. Settling in the south 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 silence 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.
My home town 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.)
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.
Matbucha Moroccan Tomato Mezze
- 2 pounds ripe plum tomatoes or 2 cans of whole peeled plum tomatoes
- 8 – 10 medium garlic cloves, peeled
- 2 – 3 hot green peppers (not bell peppers)
- ½ cup olive oil or avocado oil
- 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- Peel the tomatoes (soak them in boiled water or with a sharp knife or tomato peeler) and quarter them. Put them and the garlic in a large heavy bottom saucepan over medium heat. Cut the peppers into strips and add them to the pot. Sprinkle salt and stir.
- Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 1 hour – stirring occasionally to prevent the tomatoes from scorching.
- Put the oil, paprika, turmeric and sugar into a jar and mix.
- When most of the liquids in the pan have evaporated, add the oil-spice mixture and stir. Continue to simmer, but now, instead of stirring, use a potato masher or a big fork to mash the tomatoes occasionally. cook for 1 hour or until all of the liquid has evaporated completely and the texture of the matbucha resembles an oily jam.