Yaffa Davidov makes Moroccan beef stew
Yaffa Davidov's recipe for "cholent," a Middle Eastern beef stew, is steeped as much in tradition as it is in flavor.
As a child growing up in Israel, one of nine children of observant, Jewish parents, Yaffa's Moroccan mother served this dish, pronounced "chunt," for lunch every Saturday during the Jewish Sabbath.
The custom is hundreds of years old, rooted in the Jewish law forbidding lighting a fire and any kind of work on the Sabbath, or in Hebrew "Shabbat." The meal is slow-cooked ahead of time and served with a variety of salads, the more the merrier.
"My mom made all those salads not only for Friday evening, but enough for Shabbat," says Yaffa. "She put them on little plates and scattered them around the table, a dabble of everything, so you didn't have to reach too far," says Yaffa who now lives in Long Grove.
"What I liked was sitting around the table with my brothers and sisters; we looked forward to it," she says.
The atmosphere was much different there than in America.
"Shabbat was very strictly defined: no driving, no lights, no fire, no work," she says. "They had a siren to signal the start and end."
Though not as orthodox as her parents, Yaffa continued the traditional Sabbath lunch with her Israeli husband, Mendy, and their three children, now grown.
Gathered around the table they talked about work, school, politics, movies, music and relatives.
The stew is a company meal too for Yaffa's Israeli and American friends, who she entertains by the dozen. If she didn't make it for them at least once a winter, she'd hear about it.
A preschool teacher at Jewish Council for Youth Services in Buffalo Grove, Yaffa teaches Hebrew and Bible class at Temple Chai, also in Buffalo Grove. After a busy week at work she can easily prepare this stew whenever her children visit on Sabbath, leaving it in a slow oven overnight.
Yaffa makes her version with short ribs, chicken, chickpeas, potatoes and eggs. In a surprising twist, the eggs go into the stew pot in the shell, to slowly hard boil and absorb the color and flavors of the meat - just remember to peel before serving.
The dish is economical, nourishing and satisfying, especially when served with an array of salads that might include two she shares today: beets marinated in a lemon vinaigrette and carrots steeped in cumin, paprika and cayenne.
"I give everyone two full-sized plates, one for cholent, the other for salads so they can try everything," says Yaffa.
"The last time I made this I had 22 people over. My friends love to join me in the kitchen; we talk and we laugh," she says "They say it is so inviting, warm and comfortable. I just like to treat them well."