“I have to start by saying that the argument over what is the right way to make a matbucha,” is like debating how to make shakshuka correctly, says chef Nir Sarig. Everyone has an opinion and thinks their version is best. The Israeli-born chef, who now owns Eti, a pop-up project in New York, has long had a passion for the North African tomato-based dip.
“Growing up, my family used to drive to Haifa every Saturday to my Moroccan aunt Mazal's place for lunch,” he explains. One of 9 siblings, Mazal’s home was always filled with family members and tables dotted with Moroccan salads made from beets, carrots, eggplants, and tomatoes. She would cook for days leading up to the meal and “the star of the show was always her matbucha,” Nir adds, which she makes in a special pot that’s reserved for preparing the dip. He would devour it with challah and be full by the time the main course was served.
As an adult working as the executive chef of Mashya restaurant in Tel Aviv, Nir and his team prepared a thick, jammy version of the dish nightly, going through hundreds of pounds of tomatoes a week. The recipe they prepared belonged to chef and owner Yossi Shitrit’s mother, says Nir, and “[it] was quite different from what I remembered.” Intrigued, Nir started to ask his cooks at the restaurant about the versions their mothers, aunts, and grandmother’s made, researching the dish and the many ways to prepare it.
“Every small change in process will affect the result,” Nir says. “The way to know if what you choose is right is how quickly you finish the plate (if it makes it out of the pot in the first place).” He still has a fondness for his aunt’s rendition, which he shared with us and will make at our upcoming “Blanket Banquet” picnic.
“Every small change in process will affect the result,” Nir says. “The way to know if what you choose is right is how quickly you finish the plate (if it makes it out of the pot in the first place).”
“The recipe...is my aunt Mazal's, or at least I hope it is,” says Nir. Sometimes she won’t give out her precise recipes, he adds, so that “you... keep coming back for more.”