This dish has been a classic in my family for some time already. It comes from one of my favorite cookbooks, in my collection for over 10 years, The Sephardic Kitchen, by Rabbi Robert Steinberg. It’s one of those cookbooks that reads like a novel, and brings us closer to the kitchen of a culture that keeps many ties with Spain. The writing is very entertaining and the recipes are mingled with Sephardic folktales. It contains lots of very healthy and tasty dishes, many of those I still have to attempt… This hearty stew is one of those cases where the result is more than just the sum of its parts. A paradigmatic representation of this is a good torrija (Spanish style French toast), which makes you doubt that its creamy interior can consist only of bread soaked in milk. The succulent sauce of this stew is a perfect combination of ingredients, without any dominating over the others, and in which they all combine to create «something else» beyond the mere mixture of red wine, vegetables, honey and spices. You see, this amazing sauce inspires me and brings out the poet in me… Mmm, yum. Olé to this sauce…
And now to some historical background (an excerpt from this site), because in Spain most people know what Sephardim are, but I doubt the same holds outside Spain:
Sepharad is the Hebrew word for the Iberian peninsula that includes Spain and Portugal. (…) Jews lived in Spain long before the Visigoth (Germanic) tribes invaded in 412, however after the Moorish invasion of Spain in 700, there was a large influx of Jews immigrating to Spain. In the tenth and eleventh centuries, Spanish Judaism flourished under Muslim rule, producing poets, scholars, and courtiers – what is known as «the golden age of Jewry.» By the mid-thirteenth century, however, the Christians controlled all of the Peninsula except for a small area from Granada to the Mediterranean. In March, 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella decreed the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. Many Jews converted or left while others went to Portugal, where Judaism could still be practiced freely. But Portugal expelled its Jews in 1497, and the tiny kingdom of Navarre followed suit in 1498. Judaism could be practiced openly nowhere in the Peninsula. Driven from home, the Sephardim established their own congregations in such places as Morocco, Italy, Egypt, the Ottoman Empire, the Land of Israel, and elsewhere.
Mr. Steinberg tells us about this sopado, original name of this dish in ladino, the Judeo-Spanish language:
It is a sweet and spicy veal stew, a typical Sephardic dish that was popular throughout the Jewish Mediterranean. The seasoning varies from one community to another. The recipe that follows is that used in Thessaloniki, Macedonia and northern Greece. Sopado reminds of Hungarian goulash, which only differs in the amount of onion and paprika employed.
Claudia Roden, in The book of Jewish food, tells us about Sephardic cooking:
What we call Sephardi cooking today is the cooking of Mediterranean and Oriental Jews. There are four broad styles. Judeo-Spanish, which is Turkish and Balkan, is the cooking of the Jews of Iberian ancestry who went on to live in the Ottoman heartlands. North African or Maghrebi Jewish cuisine includes Moroccan, Tunisian, Algerian and Libyan. Then there is Judeo-Arab cooking, which is at its best in Syria and Lebanon, and the Jewish cooking of Iraq and Iran. (…) Sephardi cooking is sensual, aromatic and colourful. It makes use of anything that gives flavour – seeds, bits of bark, resins, pods, petals, pistils and flower waters. The Sephardim had a sunny, hedonistic nature (…) good eating has always been part of their traditional Jewish life. Their cooking is of a kind that lifts the spirits. The warm and sunny world they lived in had something to do with this, as had their way of life and historical experience.
Sephardic veal stew
- 1,5kg veal or beef for stewing, cut into large dice
- 8 scallions
- 500g onions
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 tsp Spanish sweet pimentón
- 1/2 tsp Spanish hot pimentón (if the stew is aimed for children as well, you can ommit this and add the same amount to the sweet pimentón)
- 1/2 tsp allspice
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cup beef stock
- 1 heaped tbsp honey
- 2 cups tomato sauce
- 1 large glass red wine
- Olive oil for frying
- Salt to taste
It’s an easy dish to prepare:
- Season the meat and heat the oil in a saucepan with a lid to medium-high heat. Stir-fry the meat in batches to seal (I use a cocotte or Dutch oven, which works great for this task). Set aside.
- Cut the veggies and stir-fry in the rendered meat fat. When the vegetables are thoroughly soft, add both pimentones and fry the mixture for another 2-3 minutes, but not longer otherwise the pimentón can get a bitter taste. Add the allspice and ground cloves and sauté another minute.
- If you are making the sauce in a pan, at this point add the broth and deglaze the bottom. If you are using the Thermomix, also add the stock and at this point you can process the sauce to smooth. I prefer it that way, like a thick, velvety sauce, but I leave it to your taste. Although I do it, the original recipe does not calls for processing.
- Then add all remaining ingredients: cinnamon stick, bay leaves, honey, tomato sauce and red wine. Stir well.
- Return the reserved meat to the pan, cover well and cook over low heat for about two hours, it may be longer or shorter depending on the toughness of the meat (for example, the last time I cooked this dish one and a half hour was enough). It is not usually necessary to add more liquid, as the mixture of wine, stock and tomato is usually sufficient for a suitable consistency.
- When the meat is tender, add salt, further heat for a couple of minutes for the salt to mix and dissolve and check the seasoning. Adjust if necessary. The original recipe calls for a quarter cup of lemon juice at the end of the cooking, but I never add it because I don’t quite like the idea and don’t miss it in the finished stew.
Like most stews, this stew is more tasty the next day, when all the flavors have developed and permeated the meat. For that, and because it is delicious, it is a dish that I cook often whenever I have guests, because I can prepare it the day before. Accompanied by a good rice or baked potatoes with herbs it makes a real fiesta dish.
Like a Sephardim would say: Berajá i salú…