But Sephardim have a whole other tradition of foods associated with Shabbat and the chagim [Jewish holidays]. And to my happy surprise, the food is generally more colorful, healthier (except for chicken soup, of course), and more delicious than its Ashkenazi counterpart (although I still love gefilte fish and a really good carrot kugel).
Anyway, a Moroccan staple for the major chagim is basar v'shizifim -- meat and prunes.
Yeah, I thought that sounded really unappetizing the first time, but the first taste changed everything and now I make it every Pesach and Shavuot and Sukkot.
And it's also a Rosh Hashanah classic.
Usually, Moroccan food isn't sweet, unless it's a dessert. But this is a delicious exception.
I'm giving you the recipe, along with its variations, but please note that even though it's pretty easy, I learned it by watching my mother-in-law and neither of us use exact measurements. So this is a Cook-on-a-Wing-and-a-Prayer recipe.
Basar V'Shizifim (photo at the very bottom of the post)
- Meat (whatever part you like, preferably one that gets really soft while cooking)
- Prunes (however many you all like and preferably without pits)
- Oil (a nut oil is particularly nice in this recipe)
- Turmeric (or saffron)
- Peeled almonds (a handful or more, depending....my mother-in-law insists that the almonds don't taste good unless we peel them ourselves by soaking them in hot water and then popping them out of their skins, but I think buying whole or slivered skinned almonds works out just fine)
(I'm going to explain the authentic Moroccan way, but feel free to cook the meat the way you're used to, if that's easier.)
- Place the meat in a pot of water and bring to a boil, then just let it simmer for hours (being careful that it doesn't burn) or until whenever it seems soft enough.
- After it's cooked enough, put the meat in the freezer (wrapping it in a plastic bag or something like that) until it is kind of frozen, but not rock-hard because you'll need to cut it.
- Wash the prunes in soapy water (to avoid bugs)
- Toss them in with the onions.
- Add however much water, like maybe just enough to cover the prunes. (Be careful that the oil doesn't snap the water back up at you.)
- Add honey, turmeric, salt, white pepper, and cinnamon in whatever amounts you find most delectable. (If you're not used to using turmeric, its smell and taste are strong and I personally don't it them pleasant, but you can't beat the color and the health benefits turmeric provides. You can start off with a teaspoon and see how that you like it.)
- Take out your not-too-frozen meat and slice it up, being careful not to slice thin slices because you want the slices to hold their shape. (I didn't know this at first, but the whole point of freezing the meat is to facilitate nice and neat slicing.)
- Place the meat slices on the prune and onion mixture.
- Add more water, maybe just to cover.
- Let all that simmer until it looks and smells fabulous, being careful to add more water if necessary. (Maybe at least half-an-hour? I usually make it longer because I like my cooked fruits and veggies VERY soft and mushy.)
- Toast the skinless almonds either in the oven or in a frying pan, probably with a little oil. Watch and stir them well so they don't burn. (This part is only a minute or two.)
- Just before serving, sprinkle the meat-prune mixture with the toasted almonds. (If you do it long before, the almonds get mushy.)
- Moroccans also use veal or lamb or chicken in place of the meat. When using chicken, you don't need to freeze it, so you can skip that whole step.
- Moroccans sometimes add dried apricots to the prunes. This makes for a pretty dish.
- Moroccans also sometimes add dried figs. (Just make sure you open them up and check them for bugs or worms first.)
- You can add wine with the meat when it's first cooking or later, with the prunes.
- If you don't mind cutting up uncooked meat, you can just do that at that beginning and skip the freezer step.
- You can leave the prunes (or dried apricots or dried figs) whole or cut them up.
- You can change the order written here and place the meat slices on the onions and THEN add the prunes and spices and water.
- You can leave out the salt and pepper and turmeric, if you wish.
- You can substitute the honey for sugar, brown sugar, or molasses -- or just leave out the sweet stuff.
- You can substitute the almonds for any other kind of nut -- or just leave them out.
- You can substitute the cinnamon for nutmeg or any other spice you like -- or just leave it out.
Chag Sameach & Shanah Tovah!