Having grown up in the culinary shadows of the Eastern European kitchen, since making Aliyah, we have learnt to appreciate the flavors of North Africa, Morocco, and the Middle East, and we love them. Friends who have traveled to Morocco in recent moths, talk about mediocre street food – nothing like the delicious, flavorful dishes that the Jews of that region brought to Israel.
Lately, our Friday night family dinners include fresh, home-baked challah with Matbucha.
Matbucha is a traditional Moroccan tomato and pepper salad often served as a side dish or appetizer. Matbucha is made with tomatoes, peppers, garlic, olive oil, and spices and is typically cooked until the tomatoes are soft and the peppers are slightly charred. You can add heat buy incorporating chili peppers.
The exact origins of matbucha are unknown, but it is believed to have originated in the Maghreb region of North Africa, which includes Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya. The dish is extremely popular in Israel, and you will find it everywhere: at falafel stands, in restaurants, and pre-packed, preservatives loaded, on supermarket shelves everywhere. Of course, homemade is best.
Matbucha is a versatile dish that can be enjoyed in various ways. It can be eaten as a side dish with grilled meats or fish or used as a spread for sandwiches or wraps. Matbucha can be served as an appetizer with pita bread, challah, or crackers. My all-time favorite is pita, hummus and matbucha. You can even add it to shakshuka.
In addition to being delicious, matbucha is also healthy. It is a good source of vitamins A and C and is also low in calories and fat. Matbucha is a great way to get your daily dose of fruits and vegetables and is a good source of fiber.
A pro chef would say that it is best to skin the tomatoes before preparing Matbucha. Those pesky tomato skins never cook through and are not pleasant to eat. To skin them, bring a pot of water to a boil. Cut an X shape on the bottom of the tomatoes. Place the tomatoes in the boiling water for 2-3 minutes, or until the skin starts to peel. Remove the tomatoes from the water and place them in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Once the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, peel off the skin.
If you are a lazy cook, like me, just grate the tomatoes to a fine pulp. Or open a can of tomatoes and pretend you didn’t – they’ll never know.
Now the cooking instructions:
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the red peppers, sliced onion and cook for 5-7 minutes, or until softened.
Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more.
Add the diced tomatoes and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until the tomatoes have softened and released their juices.
Then add the hot green pepper and cook for 1 minute more.
Season with salt to taste.
Let the matbucha cool slightly before serving. Serve warm or cold.
Tips for making matbucha:
- Use very ripe tomatoes for the best flavor.
- If you don’t have a hot green pepper, you can use a jalapeno pepper or even a habanero pepper, depending on how much heat you like. Chili flakes will do in a pinch.
- If you want smooth matbucha, you can puree it in a blender or food processor.
- You can store Matbucha in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Here is my simple recipe for matbucha
8-10 very ripe red tomatoes, cored and diced
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion sliced thin
2-3 red bell peppers, thinly sliced
1 hot green pepper, thinly sliced (optional)
1 garlic clove, minced
A generous handful (15-20) cherry tomatoes, quartered
Salt, to taste
The results are a chunky and delicious salad, dip, or spread but, you can also make matbucha like a jam:
Making Matbucha Jam
To make matbucha more like jam, purée the tomatoes (stick blender is best). This will help to create a smoother, more jam-like consistency.
Reduce the liquid. You can do this by cooking the matbucha over low heat for a longer period of time, or by placing it in a sealed container in the refrigerator overnight.
Add sugar. This will help cut the tart sour tomatoes, and sweeten the matbucha and make it more jam-like. The amount of sugar you add will depend on your personal preference.
Cook until thickened. Continue to cook the matbucha over low heat until it has thickened to your desired consistency.
Let cool and store. Once cool, the matbucha can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Some additional tips:
Use a variety of tomatoes for the best flavor. Personally, I love cherry tomatoes or plum tomatoes.
Cumin is commonly used in North-African cuisine. If you enjoy the flavour, you can add some too.
If you want a smooth result, puree the matbucha in a blender or food processor before adding the sugar.
Serve as a spread, a dip, or a condiment. Matbucha is also a great addition to sandwiches, wraps, and salads.