Serves 4 to 6
Makes about 2 cups
- 3 large red bell peppers
- 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, more for roasting the peppers
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 jalapeño, finely diced
- 7 plum tomatoes, diced
- 1½ tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp paprika or smoked paprika
- ½ tsp honey or sugar
- 2 tsp salt, more to taste
- ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper, more to taste
- ⅛ cup chopped fresh cilantro and/or parsley for garnish
- warm pita bread for serving
- Any bell peppers will work fine, but red and orange ones are more flavorful and will ensure a vibrant red color on your final product. You can also use jarred roasted red peppers in place of fresh bell peppers, if you want to cut down on prep time.
- Control the heat. For spicier matboukha, add more jalapeño or take it to the next level by adding diced serrano pepper to the mix. Lower the spice level by carefully removing as many seeds as possible from the jalapeño before dicing and cooking them.
This dish, originally from the Maghreb (North Africa) and particularly Morocco, has become popular throughout the Middle East. Variations of it can be found from Marrakech to Baghdad, with varying spice levels, texture, and ingredients. Matboukha is an Arabic word which literally means “cooked.” And this “cooked salad” is packed with flavor. Simple in principle, this dish is all about balancing deeply cooked tomatoes and peppers with bright, vibrant spices and fresh herbs. Matboukha is the perfect addition to any mezze spread along with hummus and baba ghanouj and is best enjoyed with fresh pita. It can be eaten hot, at room temperature, or cold.
The following recipe can be easily modified to suit your preferred balance of ingredients. Whether you like it smooth or chunky, spicy, or mild, more peppery, or heavier on the tomatoes; anything is possible! The beauty of this dish is that there is no single way to prepare it and it can be taken in many different directions. It’s extremely versatile and can be used beautifully as a base for so many other dishes, such as Shakshouka (just bring to a simmer in a pan, drop your eggs in, and cover!) or even as a pasta sauce.
Heat your broiler. Lightly brush or rub the peppers with olive oil, then place the bell peppers on their sides on a rimmed baking sheet. Broil in the oven for 3 to 5 minutes, until noticeably blackened, and then flip over the peppers. Continue roasting with this method until the skin is charred on all sides.
Remove the peppers from the broiler and place in a small bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a tight fitting lid, and allow the peppers to steam for about 30 minutes. (This step helps the skin come off easily.) When the peppers are cool enough to handle, rub off the skins, and remove the seeds. Roughly chop the roasted peppers.
Place a large skillet on the stovetop over medium high. Add the 2 Tbsp olive oil, garlic, and jalapeño. Cook on medium-high heat until the mixture is fragrant, and the garlic just begins to brown, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the chopped roasted bell pepper, tomatoes, cumin, paprika, and honey or sugar. Continue cooking on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the contents of the pan are well incorporated and bubbling nicely, about 3 minutes.
Cover the pan, reduce heat to low, and simmer until the tomatoes are soft and break up easily, about 20 more minutes. Remove the lid. With the back of a mixing spoon, press on the tomatoes and peppers to break them up. Stir in 1 tsp salt, and continue cooking, uncovered, over low heat, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan occasionally, until the consistency of the mixture becomes very thick and the water has evaporated, another 20 to 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Scoop the matboukha into a serving dish. Garnish with chopped herbs, drizzle on a little extra-virgin olive oil if desired, and enjoy with fresh pita.