Short Order: When the challenge is ethnic

Once you've located Yasmin's "Kubbeh Matfunia for Soup," the rest is a cinch.

Most Post columnists stop by the opinions department when they're in the building, so it was no surprise to see Amotz Asa-El ("Middle Israel") step into the office to say hi and exchange a few pleasantries. "Publish any good Moroccan recipes lately?" he asked me. "Why the interest?" I asked. (He hails from an eastern European background similar to mine.) "Because they're delicious - and because I know you won't," he retorted with a grin. Who could resist the challenge? MOROCCAN STEW 1⁄3 cup all-purpose flour 11⁄4 tsp. salt 1⁄2 tsp. pepper 1 kg. boneless beef stew meat, cut into 2.5-cm. cubes 2 Tbsp. oil 1 800-gr. can tomatoes, cut up, with the juice 1 cup water 2 (9-cm.) cinnamon sticks 2 (12-cm.) strips orange peel 1 Tbsp. minced garlic 1 tsp. ground cumin 1⁄4 tsp. sugar 4 carrots, cut into 5-cm. sticks 1 (560 gr.) can chickpeas, drained Mop any moisture off the meat with crumpled kitchen paper. Combine the flour, salt and pepper in a large plastic bag. Add 1⁄3 of the beef cubes and shake to coat with the flour mixture. Remove the meat. Repeat twice with the remaining 2⁄3. Heat the oil in a fairly large pot and brown the meat for about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in the tomatoes, water, cinnamon sticks, orange peel, garlic, cumin and sugar. Simmer, covered, for about 11⁄4 hours, or until the meat is almost tender. Add the carrots and cook, covered, for about 20 minutes, until tender. Stir in the chickpeas, and cook for five minutes more until they are heated through. Serve over couscous or rice. Makes 8 servings. I WAS charmed - it's the only word - to discover, after choosing the above Internet recipe, that every ingredient required was already in my fridge, freezer or pantry. So I made it for last Friday night dinner, using dark turkey meat (hodu adom) instead of the beef (don't tell Amotz). I sensed my guests would have given it the thumbs-up, had they not been so busy digging in. I also served a favorite soup of mine, most of whose ingredients you are also likely to already have at home. Once you've located Yasmin's "Kubbeh Matfunia for Soup," sold in the supermarket's freezer section in an oblong red plastic box, the rest is a cinch. Note: Don't thaw the kubbeh beforehand. KUBBEH SOUP 1 box of (about 16) frozen kubbeh for soup 2-3 Tbsp. oil 1 onion, chopped 1 100-gr. container tomato puree 2 Tbsp. stock powder, preferably chemical-free 1 tsp. salt 1⁄2 tsp. pepper 11⁄2 tsp. sweet paprika 1 Tbsp. sugar 1 tsp. citric acid (melah limon) 3 zucchini, sliced 3 carrots, sliced 21⁄2 liters water Heat the oil in a large pot and saute the onion until golden. Gradually add the tomato puree and saute lightly. Pour in the water and stir well. Add the carrots and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and add the zucchini, seasonings and frozen kubbeh. Cook for another 20-30 minutes. THE MEANING of "matfunia," printed in large green letters on the box of frozen kubbeh, mystified me - and, it turned out, everyone I asked. Did it refer to a type of kubbeh, or was it the name of a place? Suddenly I remembered Gil Marks, whom I interviewed last year ("Eat and enjoy, and make God happy," September 21) and shot off an e-mail. The US-based cookbook author, who is also a passionate cultural historian, did not disappoint. Here is his theory: "The meaning of the Kurdish name for red kubbeh soup - matfunia - seems to be derived from matfoon/matfune ('buried'), a variation of the Arabic and Persian madfun. (A 19th-century name of Abydos, the burial place of Osiris along the Nile, was Arabat el-Matfoon.) "The name probably refers to the meat that is 'buried' or 'hidden' in the bulgur-and-semolina shell of the kubbeh - although I suppose that in a large bowl, the kubbeh itself could be regarded as buried in the red soup and vegetables." MY DAUGHTER and I finished off the kubbeh soup, with great enjoyment, late one night last week. I hold Maimonides, about whom I wrote last time, responsible. He advised: "Don't go to bed hungry." [email protected]