Meatball and Algerian Matbucha Sandwiches

Shirly Nishri

2 hours

Serves 8

Baguette sandwich with meatballs alongside radishes and pickles

Meatball and Algerian Matbucha Sandwiches. By Anat Peiser

My little sister and I grew up in Eilat, to a French-born Moroccan-Algerian mother and an Israel-born Iraqi father. Two generations earlier, in Algiers, my mother’s parents worked in sewing and shoemaking, switching to selling women’s plus-size clothing when they moved to France. My mother and her sisters, as well as us grandchildren, got to spend a lot of time in the markets of Alsace.

On Thursdays they would work from morning till evening, and so my grandmother, or mami Flora as we used to call her, packed us all sandwiches for lunch. Mami Flora’s kitchen was French-Moroccan-Algerian, and so were her sandwiches: French baguettes filled with Algerian matbucha and Moroccan meatballs, which we ate with harissa and pickled vegetables.

At times, my grandmother would substitute the matbucha with olives and tuna in Provençal sauce, sometimes there were also fried eggplant slices. In my memory, this sandwich was always there, bringing us comfort, especially on the cold winter days.

The sauce in this recipe is inspired by my grandmother’s matbucha, which, unlike the familiar tomato-based recipe, is made of roasted peppers, plenty of garlic and just a little tomato.”

— Shirly Nishri

Shirly Nishri, is a private chef, cooking for small events and families, and makes jarred delicacies to sell. Her meatballs were served at Cafe Asif as part of the Sir Shel Bayit, or House Pot lunch series when a different chef or home cook prepares a pot of food at Cafe Asif every Tuesday.  


4 long baguettes, sliced horizontally

For the meatballs

2 ¼ lb (1 kg) beef, ground coarsely (preferably 60% chuck, 40 % short ribs)

80% of the baguette’s interior (see explanation in recipe)

1 egg

1 large white onion, finely chopped

1 large zucchini, peeled and grated

1 bunch cilantro, chopped

3-4 cloves of garlic, grated

Ground cumin, to taste

Salt and white pepper, to taste

For the matbucha:

6 bell peppers

4 green bell peppers

1 head of garlic

5 tablespoons olive oil

2 cans (400 grams each) crushed tomatoes

400 ml Beef or chicken broth or water (equal to one tomato can) 

Sugar or date molasses, to taste

2 bay leaves

5-6 allspice berries, grounded

Salt and white pepper, to taste

To serve:

10 radishes

1 tablespoon salt

Pickles or pickled shifka peppers


  1. Prepare the meatball mixture: Slice the baguettes horizontally. Remove 80% of the white interior and soak it in water until it softens. Squeeze well, tear into small pieces, and place in a bowl with the remaining ingredients. Mix well with your hands. Cover and let rest in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
  2. Prepare the radishes: Cut the radishes into 6 chunks, mix with the salt and place in the refrigerator for an hour and a half to pickle. Stir occasionally.
  3. Roast the peppers: The best method is to roast the peppers on an open fire. Alternatively, lay the whole peppers on a baking dish lined with parchment paper. Broil in the oven, occasionally turning the peppers with care, until their skin is charred on all sides. Transfer the roasted peppers to a container with a lid, and set aside for 30 minutes. Take out the peppers, peel them, remove the seeds, and slice into finger-wide strips.
  4. Prepare the stew: Peel and slice the garlic cloves. Cook in oil in a sauté pan over a low heat for about a minute. Add the crushed tomatoes, and one tomato can’s worth of broth or water.
  5. Add the pepper strips, spices, and a little sugar or date molasses. Stir and cook uncovered on a low heat for about 20-30 minutes, until the sauce becomes thick. Stir occasionally.
  6. Heat the oven to 375F/190C. With wet hands, form meatballs the size of ping-pong balls and place them on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Cook in the oven for 12 minutes, or until the meatballs start to turn golden brown. 
  7. Taste the stew before adding the meatballs. Adjust the seasoning if necessary — the stew should be on the sweet, so add a little more sugar or date molasses if needed. Add the meatballs and cook, covered, for about 40 minutes. Instead of stirring with a spook, gently shake the pot in circles and from side to side periodically. 
  8. Place some of the stew in an open baguette with 3 meatballs. Close and place on a plate with a napkin. Serve the homemade harissa, pickled radishes and halved pickled cucumbers, either in the sandwich or on the side.