When I was little, there were two things that I loved more than anything compared to most other children and that I could probably eat without ever getting tired of: olives and roasted peppers (can you tell I grew up in a Mediterranean family?). I also liked to eat spoonfuls of plain butter, so yes, if you were wondering, I was probably not like most children in the food department. For one, I was never full, but let’s not get into that. If you get my parents started on this topic, they’ll tell you that I would eat just about anything at the age of 2, including foie gras, snails and other odd delicacies that us French people like to indulge in. Indeed, not a picky eater at all, just give me some foie gras and champagne and I will be on my way now.
Back to roasted peppers: my love for them came from my grandmother’s Jewish-Algerian roasted pepper salad recipe (also known as “Matbucha” or “Tchouchouka”). Whenever I was at my grandmother’s, she made sure the refrigerator was stocked with canned homemade Matbucha (as well as a jar of olives). When I cooked dinner for friends for the first time in my life a few years ago, I asked her for the recipe. I almost never make it surprisingly, probably because it always tastes better when I’m eating it at my grandmother’s table, but last week I realized I had way more bell peppers than I could use and decided to make some. I also topped this with raw cherry tomatoes and oregano as I had some on hand and thought they would complement well this recipe, but the base of the classic Matbucha are the cooked ingredients (see instructions below). This recipe takes some time to make but it is fairly easy to prepare and you can make a large batch and store the rest in a jar with some extra olive oil like my grandmother did which will last for weeks.
Matbucha: Morrocan Roasted Pepper and Cherry Tomato Salad
5 whole red, green and yellow bell peppers
2 cloves of garlic, minced
12 cherry tomatoes
2 tbsp fresh oregano
2 tbsp olive oil for cooking + 2 tbsp for serving
Salt and pepper
1. Wash and dry the bell peppers; Turn on the grill in the oven and roast the whole peppers in a baking dish at 410°F (210°C) for 45 minutes, or until skin is burned and dark, turning them halfway through.
2. While the peppers are roasting, prepare the tomatoes: wash and slice the cherry tomatoes and set aside. Wash the whole tomatoes and skin them. To skin the tomatoes, use a knife to slice a shallow X at the bottom of each one (as shown in picture) and placing them in a pan of boiling water for 30 seconds, until the X starts to widen and the skin starts to peel by itself. Remove them from the pan and transfer to a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking. Peel off the skin of the tomatoes with your hands, slice them open, remove and discard the seeds, and slice the remaining flesh into large strips.
3. When the peppers are done roasting, take them out of the oven and quickly transfer them to a tightly sealed ziplock bag. The sealed hot air will cause the skin to peel. Set aside for 5 minutes.
4. Chop the onion. In a pot, heat the olive oil and cook the onion for 3 minutes, until translucent. Add in the peeled tomato strips and the minced garlic, cover and cook on low heat for 10 minutes.
5. Take the bell peppers out of the ziplock bag, slice them in two lengthwise and empty them of their water and seeds. Peel off the skin (which will already have started to peel in the zipplock bag) and slice the flesh in thin strips. Add the strips to the pan and cook with the tomatoes and garlic for 10 more minutes, adding salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat and let cool.
6. Transfer the cooked tomatoes and bell peppers to a dish. Add the cherry tomatoes and fresh oregano, drizzle the remaining olive oil over the salad and toss. Serve cold.
You can store the cooked Matbucha (without the cherry tomatoes) for up to three weeks in a tightly sealed glass jar in the fridge with more olive oil, to serve later with salads, crackers or simply eat as a snack.