So, you know all of those salads I told you cover the table at my Moroccan in-laws on Friday nights? Well, my husband loves them. Sometimes in an effort to embody that ever-elusive idea of the perfect wife (don’t even get me started on this), I’ll try to make a few of the salads for Friday night dinner. Once I decided I would make a whole dozen of them, and then didn’t end up making anything else. People, those salads take time.
So usually, I’ll just make two or three. We had friends over for Rosh Hashanah and I made challah (I used this recipe, but decided to go all out and use the amounts of white flour and sugar specified in the original recipe, and it was to. die. for.). Anyways, I thought I’d make a few salads to serve with it, and printed out a recipe for Matbucha. Now, I’ve made different versions of Matbucha, a thick, cooked tomato salad, over the years I’ve been married to my very Moroccan husband, but they’ve always been just ok. So when Yaki took one look at this one and let out an emphatic “wow”, I knew we had found a winner. Once the original batch was done, he put in a request for more, so this time around I photographed it for you.
It’s super simple really; it’s secret lies in a very long time simmering away on the stove, and as long as you’re home for a few hours, you’re good to go.
For something that’s as simple as peeling, chopping, and then stirring occasionally, say, whenever you pass the kitchen, the payoff is great: it’s perfect as part of a mezze spread, to be eaten with challah or pita bread, it adds an edge to sandwiches (from grilled cheese to pastrami), makes a perfect sauce in which to poach eggs for Shakshuka, is a wonderful base for spaghetti-destined tomato sauce, and is a key ingredient in many Moroccan dishes (such as this). Oh, and it freezes beautifully. In fact, Yaki’s grandmother has a freezer filled with little individual-sized portions of Matbucha, and when we visit, she opens her freezer and gives us one to take home.
Adapted from this recipe by Chaim Cohen
This cooked tomato salad is a Moroccan staple. You can adjust the amount of hot pepper to make it as spicy or as mild as you’d like (we leave it out completely). The secret to perfect Matbucha is a very long simmering time, until all liquids have evaporated and the salad is coated with a slick of oil. If you need to stop in the middle and continue later, you totally can. In fact, when I made this batch, I grew sleepy when it was still very liquid, put it in the fridge and continued the next day. Once cooked, it will keep for about a week in the fridge (possibly longer). It also freezes beautifully. As I mentioned above: it’s wonderful served as part of a mezze spread, to be eaten with challah or pita bread, it adds flavor to sandwiches (from grilled cheese to pastrami), makes a perfect sauce in which to poach eggs for Shakshuka, and is a key ingredient in many Moroccan dishes. One last thing: you can easily halve this recipe, if you don’t want to lug home 4.5 pounds of tomatoes. Although, really, you should.
1/2 cup vegetable oil (I use canola)
10 garlic cloves
2 kilograms/ 4.5 pounds tomatoes*
4-5 fresh hot peppers (optional)
1 tablespoon paprika (preferably Moroccan or Hungarian)
Salt and white pepper
1. Peel your tomatoes with a knife** (without blanching them in hot water), and coarsely chop them. Peel and chop the garlic cloves.
2. Set a medium pot over low heat, and warm the oil. Add the garlic, stirring for just a few seconds, without allowing it to color. Add the tomatoes, stir, and cover the pot. Allow to cook, over low heat, for an hour.
3. Meanwhile, if using hot peppers: grill them over an open flame, turning with tongs until the skins are blackened. Place them in a closed bag, so that they sweat and wiggle away from their skins. Peel, and chop.
4. Add the peppers, paprika, salt and pepper to the pot with the tomatoes. Stir, and cook, uncovered, on a low flame, for approximately two hours, until all of the liquid has evaporated. The salad should be very thick, and coated with a slick of oil. (This can sometimes take an extra hour or two, depending on the freshness of your tomatoes,* etc. You’re aiming for a consistency thick enough not to pass through a slotted spoon (like in the second to last picture). The only liquid remaining should be clearly oil, and not tomato juice).
*Experienced Moroccan cooks will tell you the best tomatoes to use are old, wrinkled and past their prime (they will release their liquids faster, resulting in a quicker cooking time). I’ve used fresh, taut tomatoes too though, and other than an increase in cooking time, the results are the same.
**My grandmother recently gave me a serrated vegetable peeler– specifically for tomatoes- and it made peeling these a breeze.