Matbucha

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Spring has sprung and for me, that means more salad.

So I got to thinking about that word salad, which I realize means so many things that I was never able to fit all of my salad recipes into a file folder simply marked “salad.” I had to sub-categorize them into files such as “grain salads,” “tomato salads,” “fruit salads” and so on.

Over the years I’ve made salads of all sorts. Some based mostly on greens and some that had no greens at all.

I’ve made beet salads, dinner salads, fish salads and quinoa salads.

I could go on. But really, there is no one way to describe “salad,” even though a dictionary might say something like “a mixture or raw and cooked vegetables served with dressing.”

No.

Because recently I prepared some Matbucha, which is in an entirely different salad category.

Matbucha is a “salade cuit” — that is, “cooked salad.” In fact the word Matbucha, is an Arabic word that means “cooked salad".”

Cooked salad may seem odd to Western thinking except for the fact that most of us actually eat lots of cooked salads, such as potato salad and egg salad too. We just don’t think of them as “cooked salads,” but that’s what they are.

Matbucha is a Moroccan dish, especially popular in the Moroccan Jewish community, which was once large and thriving in North Africa. When good numbers of Moroccan Jews migrated to Israel, they brought their love of this dish with them and it is now wildly popular in Israel too.

For good reason: Matbucha is vibrantly tasty, easy to cook and is ideal for Shabbat because, even though it’s cooked, you can serve it at room temperature. Use it as a salad course or as a side dish with dinner. I’ve always served it with hors d’oeuvre, as a topping for crackers or pita wedges (it works well with other Middle Eastern nibbles and dips such as hummus, raheb, baba ghanoush and so on).

You can make Matbucha 3-4 days ahead. That’s handy isn’t it?

Matbucha

  • 2 large red bell peppers

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

  • 1 serrano pepper, deseeded and chopped

  • 2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped

  • 6 medium tomatoes peeled and finely chopped

  • 1-1/2 teaspoons paprika

  • 1 teaspoon sugar

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste

Preheat the broiler. Place the peppers under the broiler, about 4-6" away from the heat, and broil for 2-3 minutes, until the skin has blistered. Turn the peppers and repeat this process until the entire surface is blistered and lightly charred. Remove the peppers and place them in a paper bag. Let rest at least 10 minutes. Remove the peppers from the bag, peel off the skin and discard the stem and the seeds. Cut the peppers into pieces. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the peppers, serrano pepper and garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, paprika, sugar and salt. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cook for 30-35 minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the mixture is thick.

 Makes 1-1/2 to 2 cups