Pascale's kitchen: North African cooked salads

In North African cuisine – dishes originating in Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco – there is a variety of recipes for making salads with cooked peppers.

Marmuma salad (photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)
Marmuma salad
(photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)
Whenever I prepare salata mashwiya like my mother used to make, I remember how she would hold her sharp knives parallel to each other in both of her skilled hands, and then start chopping the roasted tomatoes and spicy peppers. She held the knives like swords and chopped away at the vegetables, adding garlic and spices at the end. These sounds and sights are etched in my mind, and I try to replicate my mother's actions whenever I prepare this delightful delicacy.
In North African cuisine – dishes originating in Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco – there is a variety of recipes for making salads with cooked peppers. Some are spicy and others sweet. Matbucha, for example, is cooked over a low flame in oil for many hours until it thickens and can be spread on a piece of challah or mixed with couscous.
Marmuma is a spicy salad that is rich with vegetables and served with couscous or on top of pastry dough. Mashwiya is traditionally eaten for lunch on Fridays, and is wonderful spread on top of fresh bread that is prepared for Shabbat. Mahbubu is an easy-to-prepare salad made from steamed vegetables with lots of spices, which requires no frying or even stirring. You just set it on the stove top and let it simmer till it's done. Some people like to add caraway seeds, and others like to use cumin.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.
Marmuma salad
Makes 6-8 servings
■ 3 tbsp oil
■ 4 very spicy green peppers, cut into small cubes
■ 1 light green pepper, cut into small cubes (optional)
■ 2 medium tomatoes, cut into cubes
■ 8 garlic cloves, crushed or chopped
■ Salt and pepper to taste
■ ¼ – ½ tsp caraway seeds, ground (optional)
Pour the oil into a large pot and add the vegetables. Cook covered over a medium-low flame for 15 minutes. Add ¼ cup water and season with salt and pepper. Stir, lower the flame, and continue cooking for another 35 minutes. Stir every so often. The salad is ready when all of the liquid has been absorbed and the salad has thickened.
Mahbuba salad
Makes 6-8 servings
■ 2 spicy green peppers
■ 2 dark or light green peppers
■ 1 red bell pepper
■ 3 medium tomatoes
■ 6 garlic cloves
■ 3 tbsp oil
■ ¼ cup water
■ ¼ tsp ground caraway or seeds
■ Salt and pepper to taste
Wash and rinse vegetables, and then cut into quarters. Peel and slice the garlic cloves.
In a medium pot, pour in the oil and then add the cut vegetables and garlic. Stir a little and then pour in water and sprinkle with caraway seeds, salt, and pepper. Put the cover on the pot and cook for 10 minutes over medium-low flame until vegetables soften and liquids begin to evaporate. Can be served cold or hot.
Mashwiya salad
You can also roast the vegetables in the oven, but the traditional, unique flavor can be attained only by singeing them over an open flame. I recommend lining your stove top with aluminum foil before starting this process in order to make cleanup much easier. Makes 4-6 servings.
■ 1 green pepper
■ 4 spicy green or red peppers
■ 4 tomatoes
■ 8 garlic cloves, chopped finely
■ 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
■ 2 tbsp oil
■ ½ tsp salt
Cut out all the inside of the peppers and rinse well. Place a metal rack over an open medium flame and then lay the vegetables on the rack. Cook until the skin is completely scorched and bubbly.
Pull off the skins with your fingers or a knife. Taking a knife in each hand, chop the vegetables into small cubes.
Place all the vegetable pieces in a large bowl and then add all the other ingredients. Serve cold.
Roasted pepper salad
Makes 6 serving
■ 4 peppers
■ 3 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
■ 1-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
■ Salt and pepper to taste
■ ¼ tsp caraway seeds, crushed
■ 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
■ 1 tbsp vinegar
■ ¼-½ tsp lemon zest
Roast the peppers over an open flame until they're fully cooked. Peel them and then cut them into wide or medium strips. (Do not rinse the peppers after they've been roasted.) Place them in a bowl. Fry the garlic pieces (skip this step if you’ve chopped them) and add them to the pepper strips. Stir the mixture, add the rest of the ingredients, and stir again.
Matbucha salad
Makes 4 servings
■ 5 ripe tomatoes
■ ¼ cup oil
■ 5-6 light green bell peppers (can use a combination of dark green or red peppers, too)
■ 6 spicy green peppers
■ 6 cloves garlic, sliced
■ Salt to taste
■ ½ tbsp sugar
■ ½ tsp black pepper
■ ½ tsp spicy or regular paprika
Blanch the tomatoes in boiling water for 5 minutes. Peel off the skin and cut into cubes. Heat the oil in a tall, wide pot and add the tomato cubes. Cook over low flame for an hour. Make sure to stir the tomatoes every so often so they don't burn.
Place a metal rack over a medium open flame and lay the peppers on top. Roast the peppers until the skins are completely burned and bubbles have formed. Remove the peels and cut the peppers into thin strips or small cubes. Add them to the pot with the cooked tomatoes.
Add the garlic and spices and stir. Continue cooking for 60-90 minutes over a low flame until liquid has evaporated and salad is thick. Stir every so often.