What Is Matbucha?

Eugene P.

Matbucha is a Moroccan dish that some consider a type of hot sauce and others a relish or garnish; still others eat it as a salad. The dish is popular in Morocco, some areas of the Middle East and Israel, in particular. There are some minor variations, but the main ingredients in matbucha are tomatoes, bell peppers, hot peppers, salt, black pepper and, usually, onion. The sauce can be served cold or hot and is usually accompanied by bread, rice or potatoes. The primary flavor is slightly sweet because of the tomatoes, with a lot of spicy heat from the hot peppers.

Blanch tomatoes in boiling water to remove the skins.
Blanch tomatoes in boiling water to remove the skins.

Tomatoes are the base for matbucha. They can be crushed tomatoes from cans, whole tomatoes from cans that have been chopped into smaller pieces, or fresh tomatoes. In the case of fresh tomatoes, most recipes call for them to be peeled before being added to the mixture. The easiest way to achieve this is to blanch the tomatoes just enough to loosen the skin, then shock them in ice water. The skins will be easy to remove after being in the cold water for a minute.

Matbucha is often seasoned with salt and pepper.
Matbucha is often seasoned with salt and pepper.

The next ingredient is bell pepper. Almost every recipe calls for the bell peppers to be roasted before being added to matbucha. This can be easily accomplished with a grill or under a broiler. It also can be done over an open range-top burner. The idea is to expose the peppers to heat until the skin blackens, after which they can be put in a bag or covered bowl to steam until the charred skin can be easily removed.

The remaining ingredients are added without preparation. The amount of hot peppers added is dependent on the tastes of the cook. Versions of matbucha that are incredibly hot exist, as do versions that are more sweet than anything else. All the ingredients are added to a pot and cooked until the flavors come together and the consistency becomes smooth and homogenous.

Matbucha is often served with bread and, in Israel, challah bread is one of the favorites. Some challah is made with raisins inside the dough, providing a sweet counterpoint to the heat of the sauce. Matbucha also can be served over rice or poured over potatoes. When served cold, it can be a very spicy and versatile dip. There are even recipes where it is mixed with tahini or placed inside a feta grilled cheese sandwich.

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