Sauce

Jammy, Vibrant Moroccan Dips—One Red, One Green

August 25, 2017

From Italian caponata to ratatouille in France, many warm-weather cuisines have developed recipes that make the most of late summer’s sun-loving vegetables. Morocco is no exception. There, a cooked vegetable jam called matbucha reigns.

Matbucha, coming for ya. Photo by Julia Gartland

As with most traditional dishes, there are as many variations to matbucha as there are home cooks. Some are spicy from the addition of diced chilies and piquant from plenty of chopped garlic—others, less so. And, since the primary purpose of the dish (aside from being delicious) is to make use summer’s abundance, any number of vegetables from the garden can make their way into the saucepan. But most versions include some combination of tomatoes, bell peppers, and sometimes eggplant, all cooked down into a rich, slightly sweet relish and bound by a copious slick of olive oil. Not surprisingly, the word matbucha literally means “cooked stuff” in Arabic.

Matbucha is typically eaten as part of a mezze spread. Despite its chunky texture, it more closely resembles a dip than a salad or side dish, and is rarely eaten alone. Instead, it is served with pita or another bread alongside for dipping. The versatile spread is also wonderful used as a condiment on top of roasted chicken, fish, meat, or vegetables. And when made in abundance, it can serve as the base for the tomato-poached egg dish, shakshuka.

Home cooks across Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya all serve versions of matbucha, though it is most widely known as a Moroccan delicacy. In Israel, matbucha became popular after being introduced by North African-Jewish immigrants in the 1950s. Today, the briny, flavor-packed “Tunisian sandwich,” which layers a split roll with matbucha, oil-packed tuna, cooked potatoes, preserved lemon, and capers, can be readily found at street food stalls in Israel.

Ruby red matbucha, a home for your late summer vegetables. Photo by Julia Gartland

Thanks to the dish’s tomatoes and red bell peppers, most matbucha recipes are often ruby red in color. I adore the original version, but also love to play with tradition. In addition to the more typical recipe, I developed a “green” matbucha that swaps red bell peppers for green, and blends a heap of vibrant fresh basil and mint, as well as lemony za’atar into the mix. This variant recipe comes from my book, Little Book of Jewish Appetizers, which released earlier this month.

This has green herbs in it. Photo by Julia Gartland

Like many long-simmered dishes, matbucha is delicious as soon as it is made, but tastes even better a day later when the flavors have had a chance to mingle and deepen. So head out to the garden or to the farmer’s market, and prepare to bid summer a delicious adieu.

How do you like to prepare late summer produce? Let us know in the comments!

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