In honor of Israel’s anniversary, Israeli Consul for Cultural Affairs Yoram Morad shares a story of his mother’s version of Jewish Iraqi cuisine.
The Day the State of Israel was born was my father’s 26th birthday. It was also my mother, Suzette Zaraf’s, 22nd birthday. Strangely enough, while Israel recently celebrated its 61st anniversary, my mother is still 22— numbers, go figure...
Suzette was born in Baghdad into a middle-class Jewish Iraqi family, which meant a good and easy life with a very fine education, including having servants and a cook. As a result, when my mother was 18 years old she spoke four languages but did not know anything about cooking.
Marrying my father and making Aliyah to Israel in 1951 left her no choice—she had to learn how to cook. While raising three children, she mastered the art of traditional Iraqi Jewish cooking. Well, not all of it—only about ten dishes or so— but what she does cook is as good as it can get.
“The Nana’iya, a thick, sweet and sour sauce with chunks of beef, is the best of them all. It requires some work but it’s worth it. This recipe is derived from my mother’s experience rather than using a traditional standard recipe.”
- 1 lb beef chuck (for stew)
- 1 large onion, cut in small cubes
- 1 bunch of fresh Nana (or mint), chopped
- 1⁄2 bunch parsley, chopped
- 1 Tbsp celery seeds
- 2 celery stalks, sliced
- 1-2 Tbsp oil (olive or vegetable)
- Black pepper, to taste
- 2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
- 1 cup tomato paste
- Juice of two lemons
- 1 Tbsp vinegar
- 1 tsp curry
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 Tbsp honey
- 2 Tbsp cilan [date syrup]–if you do not have it you may add an additional Tbsp of honey
- 1 Tbsp white sugar
- 2 Tbsp brown sugar
Cook the meat in boiling water for a few minutes to clean it. Spill the water out. Take the meat out and let cool. Slice it to desired thickness–cubes of 1 inch or more. Sauté in vegetable (or olive) oil together with the onions and black pepper for 3 minutes. Cover with boiling water up to 1 inch above the meat, bring to boil. Lower the heat and cook until the meat is tender (at least 40 minutes). In a separate bowl, mix all sauce ingredients—remember, if you do not have cilan, add more honey—and add it to the meat together with the sliced garlic, chopped mint, parsley and the celery. Bring to a boil, lower the temperature, cover and let simmer for about 15 minutes. Taste the sauce and adjust with salt/sugar/pepper/vinegar to your taste.
Serve over white rice. Beteavon!