Fez-style Tomato and Green Pepper Salad

Fez is a city in Northern Morocco that will take your breath away. You can wander the narrow streets and neighborhoods within the walls that circle the old town and feel like you time-traveled a few centuries ago.

I first traveled to Fez by train from Casablanca, where I went to try and gain a perspective and understanding of the country my mother grew up in. As I meandered through the country, I found myself thinking about food…a lot! Ok, I was actually rather obsessed with childhood memories of the food my mother made and I was getting very excited to see what I would encounter and discover as I approached Fez. And then my thoughts were interrupted!

A young man approached me and began to speak to me in French. At that time, my French was not too bad, but I must have had a look of bewilderment because the young man switched almost immediately to English. We chatted for about 30 minutes before the journey ended and we arrived in Fez. Then, the young man asked if I would like to join him and his family for lunch. Well, I didn’t want to appear rude, so I gratefully accepted.

We bypassed the entrance to the old town and began heading up the hill to an area not often visited by tourists. The little houses were small cement-like boxes, the streets were dirt and children played everywhere. No one payed much attention to me as we made our way to a single-room house. My new friend’s wife was busy tending to a single burner in the middle of the small room. Children began entering the house. They were all laughing and very curious. Everyone seemed so happy. I felt uncomfortable at first, because I knew everything this family owned was visible in this single room that also acted as their kitchen.

The wife looked like a younger version of my mother. Those big brown eyes (which I happily inherited) watched me with curiosity and interest, but also with extreme hospitality. I was beginning to warm up to this family. She lifted the lid from the large pan on the burner and revealed a simple stew of tomatoes and fava beans, then peered directly at me and opened her hands as if to say, “please, help yourself.”

The smells of this dish filled the room. Suddenly, I understood my mother in a way I never did while she was alive. This was cooking from the heart, and that meant it must be shared.

As I meandered through Fez the next few days, I encountered this same sort of simple and exquisite offering with each meal. One dish in particular stood out above all the rest, and that was a salad of grilled green peppers, chopped tomatoes and a few bits of preserved lemons. The flavors exploded with each and every bite.

I’ve never been able to completely duplicate the flavor I remember from that salad, but then again, the context is all wrong. But, this version is easily made in any kitchen and tastes fantastic.

Yield: makes about 8-12 portions.

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