You can’t write about salada matbucha without writing about Yeruham. The Jewish Moroccan spicy tomato cooked salad and my hometown in the Negev, the desert of Israel, go together. The aroma of tomatoes cooked with garlic and charred green spicy peppers is the aroma of my small town. Every Friday around noon every house or building you walk into smells like Matbucha.
Just a little background, I was born and raised in Yerucham until I was 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 Ashkenazi (European Jews) government of Israel deposited them – a long sad story. Until I had my boys, I resented my hometown for the usual reasons most people don’t like small towns; it was small, unattractive, and right in the middle of nowhere. However as I have grown older, wiser, and well traveled, I have begun to understand what it is that my father and husband see in this place. I completely gave up my judgments and learned to appreciate the beige barn landscape after Inbar, my youngest sister passed away in New York and wished to be buried in Yeruham. No place on earth could have comforted me the way my birth place did while I was grieving and aching. The silence of the desert calmed my mind. The sunny bright days lit the darkness of my soul and the warmth of the locals warmed my heart. It was the only place I felt at peace in the hell my family and I were going through.
My home town is like Salada Matbucha. It’s not pretty, it doesn’t have a fancy name and far from being sophisticated yet it has an incredible ability to comfort your soul. Especially when life kicks 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. If I had to choose one dish to represent Jewish Moroccan culture, this would definitely be it. Sweet and feisty.
A Good matbucha is a matbucha that gets lots of time and attention. It should resemble a jam. In my family, we always discuss / criticize our or others matbucha; it’s too spicy, it’s not spicy enough, the color is too dark, the tomatoes were not ripe enough, it isn’t delicate, the peppers aren’t charred properly, it didn’t cook long enough, it’s too oily, too much spices.
A few things before you start:
- A good matbucha takes at least 90 minutes to cook with supervision.
- Matbucha is made with ripe plum tomatoes – it wouldn’t be delicious if the tomatoes aren’t ripe. I use canned plum tomatoes and it comes out almost as good but the color of the matbucha is darker, which my mother disapproves of.
- Burning the peppers is optional but when you do, the matbucha gets a good smoky flavor.
- Don’t skip the garlic, it has a big roll in the flavor.
- My mother makes it with canola oil which has a neutral flavor as opposed to olive oil. I make it with extra-virgin olive oil and it comes out delicious.
- It is most delicious eaten over fresh homemade bread or challah. Growing up in a Jewish Moroccan home we ate matbucha every week, during the weekend with our Friday noon’s sandwich, Shabbat dinner and Saturday for lunch before hamin. If we have leftovers, which is rare, we make shakshuka with it on Sunday.
Matbucha (Moroccan Slow-Cooked Tomato salad)
- 2 large cans of whole plum tomatoes - diced is okay but not crushed or 2 pounds ripe plum tomatoes, peeled
- 8 medium size garlic cloves - peeled
- 2 green hot chili peppers - for mild spiciness add only 1
- 1 tablespoons sweet paprika
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- ½ cup olive oil or canola oil
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Put the oil, paprika and turmeric in a measuring cup or jar and mix to combine. Set aside.
- Drain the tomatoes and put them in a heavy bottom pot (If you’re using fresh tomatoes, peel them then cut them in half and squeeze out their juice, before you put them in the pot). Add the garlic and bring to a boil.
- Lower the heat to medium and continue to cook until all the liquid evaporates, about 20 – 30 minute, stirring occasionally. Press the tomatoes with a wooden spoon to squeeze out their juice.
- Meanwhile burn the peppers on the burner over high heat, flipping them occasionally to make sure that their skin is burned. Let them cool for 5 minutes, then peel their skin and discard. You should wear latex gloves when you handle the spicy peppers (you can get burns from the seeds). Trim the tops and discard. Cut the peppers lengthwise and remove the seeds (don’t rinse the peppers in water, you can wipe the inside with a paper towel). Cut the peppers into strips and add to the tomatoes.
- Using a potato masher, mash the tomatoes every now and then. When most of the liquid is gone, lower the heat to low and continue to mash every now and then.
- When all the liquid is gone pour the oil mixture in. Add sugar and salt, and mix. Simmer uncovered for 1 hour, stirring occasionally to prevent the tomatoes from scorching. Cook until the texture resembles a jam. Taste and add salt if necessary.