Sephardi Shabbat stews

By using a modest amount of meat with a few savory seasonings, cooks can achieve entrees that are tasty but not heavy.

After the succession of feasts – Pessah, Yom Ha’atzmaut, Lag Ba’omer and Shavuot, many of us look for lighter fare. This means, of course, including more vegetables in our menus.
Preparing lighter meals does not necessarily require a drastic change in family customs. When my mother was living with me, I suggested a vegetarian Shabbat, but she rejected this idea. Quoting the Shabbat hymn “Meat and fish and all tasty things,” she made it clear that to her a main course of meat or chicken was a must for Shabbat. The solution was simple. We changed the ratio of vegetables to meat in our traditional stews and casseroles.
Using liberal amounts of vegetables might sound like a modern idea, but in fact it is a time-honored custom. Throughout the ages, Mediterranean cooks have come up with a variety of dishes using meat as a flavoring for a preponderance of vegetables.
I have long loved the Shabbat main courses developed in the Maghreb countries of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. By using a modest amount of meat with a few savory seasonings, cooks achieve entrees that are tasty but not heavy and are perfect as warm-weather Shabbat entrees.
Tunisian-born Pascal Perez, author of North African Cooking (in Hebrew), wrote that the entrees of her childhood took full advantage of the wealth of fresh vegetables. Her full-meal Tunisian stew has just a small amount of meat by Western standards, 250 grams for four or five portions. The meat cooks with plenty of vegetables – cabbage, chard, turnips, onions, cardoons, tomatoes and chickpeas, and fresh seasonings of parsley and coriander leaves. Her beef and green bean tajine calls for more veggies than meat – in addition to the beans, there are tomatoes and lots of onions. For her okra and meat stew, she uses a generous proportion of okra, green peppers, tomatoes and onions, with seasonings of turmeric and cinnamon producing a flavorful dish.
Klementine Konstantini, author of Traditions Culinaires de Tunisie, also highlights the lavish amount of vegetables that Tunisians include in their main courses. In one of her simple, light stews, she cooks veal with fennel bulbs and onions and seasons the dish with red pepper and ground coriander.
Zette Guinaudeau Franc, author of Les Secrets des Cuisines en Terre Marocaine, prepares a beef ragout with vegetables – turnips, carrots, potatoes or all three – using 1.5 kilos of vegetables for one kilo of beef and a big handful of fresh coriander leaves.
For his Algerian meat ragout with fava beans, Algerian chef Farid Zadi, an instructor at the California School of Culinary Arts in Pasadena, cooks ground meat with green fava beans, onions, carrots, celery and tomato sauce, flavors the dish with a blend of cumin, ground caraway and cayenne, and serves it over pasta. By using ground meat, which he notes can be beef, lamb or veal, the stew can be prepared quickly.
You can use these satisfying, healthy entrees as basic recipes to adapt to your own preferences, changing the vegetables and seasonings to your taste.
You can make this dish with hot and semi-hot peppers, or simply use sweet peppers and a touch of cayenne. This version includes potatoes and green and yellow beans to make a complete main course. You can substitute zucchini for half the beans; cut them in sticks and cook them along with the beans.
The stew can be kept, covered, for two days in the refrigerator. Reheat it in a covered pan.
2 Tbsp. olive oil or vegetable oil1 onion, halved and sliced thin450 gr. to 900 gr. beef shoulder, excess fat removed,    cut in 2.5-cm. cubes2 semi-hot or sweet green peppers, cut in 1.25-cm.    dice 2 jalapeno or other hot peppers, seeds and ribs   discarded, chopped (optional)6 garlic cloves, chopped11⁄2 tsp. ground cumin1⁄2 tsp. turmeric (optional)Salt and freshly ground pepper2 or 3 ripe tomatoes, diced 1⁄2 cup tomato sauce or 2 Tbsp. tomato paste1 cup water 350 gr. to 450 gr. small or medium size boiling potatoes225 gr. green beans225 gr. yellow beans or additional green beanscayenne pepper (optional) 2 Tbsp. chopped parsley or fresh coriander (optional)
Heat oil in a large stew pan, add onion and saute about 7 minutes over medium-low heat. Add beef and both types peppers and saute about 7 minutes, stirring often, until the beef cubes change in color. Add garlic, cumin, turmeric salt, pepper, tomatoes, tomato sauce and water. Stir and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat for 11⁄2 hours.
Peel potatoes and cut in chunks about 2.5 centimeters thick. Add to stew. If stew appears dry, add about 1⁄4 cup water. Cover and cook for 40 minutes or until meat and potatoes are tender.
Meanwhile, remove ends from beans and break them in half. Cook beans in boiling salted water about 7 minutes or until tender. Rinse with cold water.
When potatoes are tender, add beans to stew and heat gently for 2 to 3 minutes to blend flavors. Taste for seasoning, and add cayenne if desired. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.
Makes 4 servings.
A tajine is a Moroccan stew usually prepared with meat or chicken and is named for the dish with a cone-shaped lid that is traditionally used for cooking and serving it. I like this light stew for Shabbat in late spring or summer. Couscous is a great accompaniment, or you can serve rice instead.
1⁄4 tsp. saffron threads (see Note below)2 large onions, sliced4 large garlic cloves, chopped2 Tbsp. olive oil700 gr. to 900 gr. boneless veal shoulder or veal stew    meat, cut in 4-cm. piecessalt and freshly ground pepper1 tsp. ground ginger2 tsp. paprika1⁄2 tsp. ground cumin2 cups water2 tomatoes, diced (optional)700 gr. zucchini or white squash (kishuim), halved and    cut in 1.25-cm. slices3 Tbsp. chopped fresh coriander or parsley
Add saffron to 1⁄4 cup hot water and leave to soften for 20 minutes.
Heat oil in a large heavy casserole. Add onions and garlic and cook over low heat, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Add veal, salt, pepper, ginger, paprika, cumin and saffron in its liquid and mix well over low heat. Add water and tomatoes and bring to a boil, stirring often. Cover and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 11⁄4 hours or until veal is tender.
Transfer veal with a slotted spoon to a plate, leaving most of onions in casserole. Cover plate. Boil sauce, including onions, stirring occasionally, until it is reduced to about 11⁄2 cups. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Add zucchini to sauce and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover and cook over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes or until zucchini slices are tender. Return veal to sauce and heat through. Serve sprinkled with coriander or parsley.
Makes 4 servings.
Note: If you don’t have saffron, you can substitute turmeric for a different flavor; there is no need to soak it in hot water.
Faye Levy is the author of Faye Levy’s International Jewish Cookbook and Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home.