T'bit, Iraqi Shabbat Stew
active: 15 min
total: 1 hr
In New York, and really in the United States in general, we tend to equate "Jewish" with "Ashkenazi." Of course, it ain't so, and thank God, because Sephardi food is often much better: more delicious, healthier, lighter. In her new book, Jewish Soul Food: From Minsk to Marrakesh (Schocken), Janna Gur picks the best of what she calls "grandmother's greatest hits" from Jewish kitchens across the world. And she should know, because she and her husband Ilan are the founders of Al HaShulchan, the Israeli food magazine that's equivalent to our Bon Appetit, or Food & Wine.
From her perch beside the melting pot that is Israeli cuisine, Gur was ideally placed to identify, develop and test those precious home recipes, the H'rira (Moroccan vegetable and legume soup) and Fesenjan (Persian meatballs in walnut and pomegranate sauce) and, yes, Gefilte Fish, that usually don't get written down, and sometimes die with the elderly ladies whose specialities they were. This book, Gur's second after The Book of New Israeli Food, is her attempt to not just preserve, but inject new life into, a global Jewish food culture.
"It's not enough just to write down a recipe and cook it," Gur said, "You also have to find enough other people who want to cook it, too."
Israel, she says, is a great place to try to make this happen, because it is a "nation of foodies" with a weekly, built-in dinner party on which to hone their cooking chops: Shabbat.
In Ashkenazi communities, of course, cholent, the long-simmered stew of beef and beans, rules. But in keeping with the new book's ethos, Gur urges us Galitzianers and Litvaks to take a good look at an Iraqi alternative, t'bit. From the book: "Shabbat casseroles are pretty heavy. Iraqi t’bit is different. It has all the comforting essence of a very slowly cooked pot roast, but because it is made with chicken and rice (rather than beef and beans), it is considerably lighter. Just imagine how delicious the chicken tastes after it spends the night in the oven wrapped in a blanket of fragrant rice."