Here is a recipe I made for my mother on Mother’s Day. It is similar to the Beef with Eggplant, Dates, and Apricots I made last month for the Pesach of Colors series, but recalls two other dishes from separate Sephardic traditions: the Balkan albondigas, or meatballs with eggplant, and lamb tagine with prunes, a traditional Moroccan-Sephardic meal for Jewish holidays. I kind of made up this recipe on the spot, but will almost certainly make it again. This dish is somewhat complex in terms of ingredients and preparation, so save it for special occasions – like Mother’s Day.
Today, in our series for Passover, the color is orange – from the sharp brightness of apricots in a rich and hearty stew. And though many American Jews (well, American Ashkenazim) want the sweet and dark taste of gedempte fleysh – roasted-braised brisket – this Passover, I am sure that this recipe can satisfy even the most brisket-addled tongue – and is certainly easier to make! (Worry not – I’ll make brisket at some point.)
Dried fruit and the combination of fruit and meat have a long history in various Jewish culinary traditions, especially for Passover. Ashkenazi readers may be most familiar with tzimmes – a stew, traditional to Rosh HaShanah and Passover, that is made with carrots or sweet potatoes, dried fruit such as prunes or raisins, and oftentimes beef flank or the aforementioned brisket. Moroccan Jews, meanwhile, make a series of tagines that combine dried fruits – especially prunes, apricots, lemons, and dates – with meat. A lamb tagine with prunes is, in fact, a traditional dish (link in French) for the first night of Passover in some communities. Meanwhile, the Bukharan Jews, originally from Bukhara in Uzbekistan, add raisins to the meat-and-rice plovs that are frequent on Shabbat tables in that community. The sweetness of the fruit, like the sweetness of liberation, provides a nice balance to the savory, fatty depths of good stew meat – and sometimes, depending on the fruit, provides an amazing color to plates.
This recipe is a merger of two recipes from different parts of the Jewish world. A tagine with lamb, apricots, and eggplants is traditional in parts of Morocco, and Shabbat fare for many of the Jewish communities there. The addition of dates, however, comes from Vered Guttman’s recipe for an eggplant, apricot, and date pilaf that was published for Purim in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. This recipe is not exactly “authentic” and I won’t try to market it as such, but is rather a festive idea based on Jewish traditions from a variety of places.
Beef with Eggplant, Apricots, and Dates
Based on a pilaf recipe by Vered Guttman and a tagine recipe by Laurense Regale (in French)
1 large or 2 small-medium Mediterranean eggplants
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1-2 pounds chuck beef, chopped into small pieces (depends on your taste)
1 cup dried apricots, chopped
1 cup dried dates, pitted and chopped
2 tbsp salt
1 tbsp black pepper
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1.5 tsp ground turmeric
1.5 tsp ground nutmeg
1.5 tsp dried thyme
1.5 tsp ground cumin
4 dried cloves
1/2 tsp dried nutmeg
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock* (you can also just use water)
~6-8 cups water
2 tbsp honey
Olive oil or sunflower seed oil
Salt for preparing eggplant
- Wash the eggplant, and chop the ends off. Cut the eggplants into four wedges, and slice these wedges into triangle-pieces about an inch at the base/peel and an inch thick. Place the eggplants into a colander and salt heavily. Set aside for 30 minutes, during which time the eggplant will “sweat.” (This is oxalic acid escaping the eggplant, which means the pieces will be less bitter in the final product.)
- Afterwards, rinse the pieces of eggplant and set aside.
- Heat a stock or stew pot, and add oil when the pot is hot. Then, add the onions and garlic and sauté until the onions soften.
- Add the meat and sauté, stirring constantly, until the meat is browned on all sides.
- Add the apricots, dates, and spices and stir into the meat-onion mixture. Sauté for one minute.
6. Add the eggplant pieces and mix into the fruit-meat-onion mixture thoroughly.
7. Add the stock to the pot, and then add water until the meat and eggplant are covered with water by at least 1/3 of an inch/1 cm. Bring to a boil.
8. Once the mixture is boiling, reduce the heat to low, and stir in the honey.
9. Simmer for 1-1 1/2 hours, or until the liquid has reduced significantly and the eggplant is very soft. Serve with your carbohydrate of choice.