To most people in Israel, the small desert city of Sderot is famous for being one of the hardest hit places in the country by the ongoing rockets from Gaza. The city has been under constant fire since the beginning of the second intifada in 2000 and has sustained not only casualties and disruption of daily life, but is also struggling to keep its population and, according to Wikipedia, threatened to declare bankruptcy in 2009.
To us however, it is mainly the home of Avi and Laura who met, fell in love, fostered art and culture and brought positive attention to a place that has had more than its fair share of sad news. You can read more about their work here, here and here.
Laura, who met my mother years ago through work, was kind enough to take us under her wing when we moved to Tel Aviv (where she and Avi currently reside for professional reasons). We felt very lucky to spend time in their company, in their home, and at their shabbat table.
The dynamic in their house is familiar to me both because of their mixed Sephardi-Ashkenazi marriage, and also because of Laura’s wide-eyed California-ness, which reminds me almost exactly of my mother’s. On the Fridays that Laura and Avi do not drive to Sderot to visit his family, Laura does her best to “compete” with the feasts her mother-in-law serves.
“She makes so much food, you would not believe it,” Laura says to me, as she removes an enormous tray of lasagna from the oven.
I look around the kitchen and dining area, which looks a little like the aftermath of one of my culinary classes for tweens, and is filled with delicious smells: bean soup simmers on the stove, three or four salads and slaws are in various stages of being dressed on the counter, a lemon cake stands proudly on the side board and the roasted squash still bakes in the oven.
“I think you did good, Laura,” I say, wondering how in the world it will be possible for just four adults and two very small children to make even a dent in this meal.
I’ve encountered Laura-types in the kitchen many times. Self-deprecating home cooks who are constantly doubting their culinary prowess, yet could probably give most professionals a run for their money. The truth is, Laura is an excellent cook, and being the food-voyeur that I am, I would have been remiss not to take a recipe or two away from my short time as her neighbor.
Matbucha — a cooked dip made with sweet bell peppers, spicy peppers, tomatoes, and garlic — has a permanent place on Laura and Avi’s shabbat table because it is something he grew up with at home in Sderot. After making it myself and seeing how simple it is, Matbucha may take up permanent residence on our shabbat table as well.
Matbucha inspired by Laura Bialis, adapted from New Israeli Food by Janna Gur
4-5 red bell peppers (I used 3 because they were huge!)
3-4 small hot green peppers (these vary drastically in their degrees of spiciness. The only way to know is to taste them)
8-10 cloves of garlic, crushed
1/2 cup olive oil
1 Tbs paprika
1 tsp cayenne pepper (taste your peppers first, you may not need this)
1 tsp salt
1 pinch sugar (optional)
1 Tbs tomato paste
Cut an X in the bottom of each tomato and blanch briefly in boiling water. Cool and peel. Remove seeds and coarsely chop. Set aside
Place bell and hot peppers under a broiler until they are blackened and mottled, turning with tongs as they roast. Put roasted peppers in a covered bowl or bag and let them steam for 10 minutes. When they are cool enough to handle, remove their skins, seeds and ribs, then coarsely chop.
Put tomatoes in a saucepan and cook until liquid has evaporated — 5 – 10 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients except the tomato paste and cook for two hours on low heat, stirring occasionally.
Add the tomato paste and cook for another 30 minutes. The salad is ready when it is shiny and very thick. keep in the refrigerator for up to 10 days or in the freezer for 3 months. Bring to room temp before serving.