Pascale's kitchen: Cholent, Tunisian style

Recipes for Bikela (Swiss chard stew), Bean and pumpkin stew and Coconut orange cake.

Bikela (Swiss chard stew) (photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN AND HAGIT GOREN)
Bikela (Swiss chard stew)
One of my favorite things about Shabbat in the winter is preparing cholent for my family. Every community in Israel has its own special way of preparing this slow-cooking winter stew that’s eaten for Shabbat lunch, and even a brief trace of this aroma can bring back intense childhood memories.
I’ve received numerous requests recently to provide my readers with cholent recipes, and so this week I will explain how to make two Tunisian-style stews.
The first is based on Swiss chard, and the second on white beans.
My very talented late mother, Esther, would prepare bikela for my family when I was a child. This week is my mother’s yahrzeit, and so I am dedicating this week’s column to her memory. The unique flavors I tasted in my mother’s kitchen growing up form the basis of who I am today.
The main ingredient of bikela is Swiss chard, which gives the dish its dark green – almost black – color. At first glance, bikela does not look like the most appetizing dish – in fact, it looks pretty frightening.
However, once you’ve tasted it, you won’t be able to leave even one tiny bit in your bowl. It gives off a strong aroma of cinnamon and mint, and it’s usually served with meat for Shabbat lunch.
When it’s prepared for a special occasion – a brit or bar mitzva – bones are usually added to give it even more flavor. Bikela, however, is also delicious served as a vegetarian dish.
I know many people shy away from preparing this dish because of the great effort required to puree the Swiss chard, so what I recommend is preparing a large amount and storing the leftovers in the fridge for the next time (it can keep for months in the fridge). If you prefer, you can purchase a jar of crushed Swiss chard, but it doesn’t compare with the incredible taste of freshly pureed leaves. Plus, you’ll need a larger quantity if you’re using prepared Swiss chard.
The second recipe I’ve included is a bean-based stew that is usually made with chicken or beef and served over couscous.
Both of these stews are best served over homemade couscous. Of course, they can also be served with instant couscous.
I recommend serving a citrus coconut cake with nuts to complete your meal. It is very easy to prepare and has a fantastic aroma.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.
Bikela (Swiss chard stew)
Makes 6-8 servings
Puree ingredients:
■ 1 kg. Swiss chard
■ ½ tsp. salt
■ 1½-2 cups oil
Choose the most succulent green leaves you can find and discard the white stems (or use them in a soup or cook them in water and use as a spicy addition to your salad). Rinse leaves well and dry with a towel.
Heat a large frying pan and add some of the leaves. Sprinkle salt on top. Stir and push down on leaves with a wooden spoon. After a few minutes, add another handful of leaves.
Continue stirring and crushing the leaves. Let liquid evaporate while cooking.
Carefully pour oil on top of leaves and continue stirring and crushing them.
Note: Never leave the chard cooking unattended. The leaves must be continuously crushed and stirred. After the leaves begin to blacken, remove from flame and let cool. Transfer to an airtight glass container and store in fridge until ready to be used.
Stew ingredients:
■ 6 Tbsp. Swiss chard puree (see instructions above)
■ ½ tsp. spicy paprika
■ ½ tsp. black pepper
■ 2 chili peppers or 1 Tbsp. harissa
■ 2 sticks of cinnamon
■ 10 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
■ ½ tsp. sal
t ■ ½ kg. beef, rinsed, cut into large cubes
■ 5 cups water
■ 3 cups dry white beans that were soaked in water overnight, washed and rinsed
■ 6-8 eggs, rinsed well
Add the Swiss chard puree to a large pot.
Steam for 2-3 minutes and then add the spicy paprika, black pepper, chili pepper, cinnamon, garlic and salt. Stir and add the meat. Cook for another 5-7 minutes. Pour in 4 cups of water. Stir and cover.
Bring to a boil and add the drained beans and the eggs. Pour in the rest of the water, cover and cook for 30 minutes on a low flame. Every few minutes, check to make sure that all the water has not evaporated. If it’s getting dry, you can add up to one more cup of water. Leave on the hot plate all night long. If it’s too dry in the morning, you can add up to a half cup of water. Remove cinnamon sticks before serving.
Bean and pumpkin stew
Makes 6-8 servings
■ 3 Tbsp. oil
■ 3 medium onions, peeled and sliced thinly
■ 1 tomato, cut into cubes
■ 2 red peppers, cut into small cubes
■ 5 cloves of garlic, crushed ■ 600 gr. beef, cut into cubes, rinsed; or 6-8 chicken pieces
■ 4 Tbsp. tomato puree
■ ½ Tbsp. spicy paprika
■ 1 level tsp. ground cumin
■ ½ tsp. salt
■ 5-6 cups water
■ 3 cups dry white beans that were left to soak overnight, rinsed
■ ½ kg. pumpkin, peeled and cut into cubes
■ 4 large potatoes, peeled and cut into medium sized cubes
■ 6-8 eggs, washed well
Heat the oil in a large pot. Add the pieces of onion, tomato, red pepper, and garlic. Stir well. Add the meat, tomato paste, paprika, cumin and salt. Stir well. Pour in 4 cups of water, cover and bring to a boil.
Add the beans, pumpkin, potatoes and eggs. Pour in the rest of the water (water should cover beans and vegetables). Stir, cover and cook over medium flame for 30 minutes. Transfer to hot plate or oven. In the morning, you can add another ½ to ¾ cup of water, if stew is too dry.
Coconut orange cake
■ 6 eggs, separated
■ 1½ cups sugar
■ 200 gr. butter, cut into cubes
■ Zest of 1 medium orange
■ 100 gr. coconut flakes
■ ½ cup walnuts, ground or chopped coarsely
■ ½ cup peanuts, ground finely
■ 1 cup matza meal
■ 1 packet baking powder Icing:
■ 100 gr. powdered sugar
■ 2-3 Tbsp. orange juice
■ 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
■ ¼ cup sugared orange peel
Whip the egg whites at high speed with an electric mixer. As soon as stiff peaks form, add ½ cup of sugar gradually while mixing. Mix well and then transfer to another bowl. In the mixer bowl, whip the butter and then gradually add the rest of the sugar. Add the egg yolks and mix well. Add the orange peels, coconut flakes, walnuts, peanuts, matza meal and baking powder. Fold together gently.
Fold the egg whites into the mixture and mix.
Pour into baking dish and flatten. Bake at 170°-180° for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out with crumbs.
Prepare icing and spread on cake while it’s still hot. Decorate with sugared orange peels.