This delicious beef Yemenite stew was a childhood favorite of mine. My dad used to make a fantastic version and serve it with noodles or rice – but, I’ve chosen to serve this wintery dish with a creamy polenta instead. The Yemenite Jewish population is particularly unique in that due to its relative isolation, the traditions and customs have remained largely unchanged since the 3rd century (the date at which archaeological evidence first attests for Jews in Yemen). Historically known as a soup using marrow bones, (and often served at weddings in Israel- where most Yemenite Jews have immigrated since the 1800s), this recipe creates a thicker stew – yet, still seasoned with the most important ingredient: hawayij, a Yemeni spice comprised of black pepper, caraway seed, saffron threads, cardamon and tumeric. Although its not strictly traditional, I like to add some parsley and mint to freshen it all up, both in the middle of cooking and at the end for garnish. If you want to learn more about the Yemenite Jews in Israel and their foodways, check out this Gourmet article from December 2007: Soup Stirring.
Beef Yemenite Stew
800 g stewing beef, cut into cubes
5 carrots, cut into chunks on the diagonal
2-3 red onions, cut into chunks same size as carrots
3-4 cloves garlic, made into a paste w/salt
1 cup tomato concasse
3 tbl hawayij spice
4 large russet potatoes, cut into chunks (skin on)
2-3 qt beef stock
1/3 bottle red wine
1 cup parsley, chopped, plus more for garnish
1 cup mint, chopped
- Put all the cubed beef into a large bowl and season with salt and pepper. Pour some flour into the bowl and toss to coat.
- Brown the meat in a large stock pot or dutch oven in olive oil. Remove and set aside.
- Add a bit more oil to the pot or dutch oven and saute the onions and carrots with the garlic paste. Add in the hawayij spice mix, the beef, potatoes and half of the herbs. Add in the tomato concasse and deglaze with the red wine.
- Add in the beef stock and a splash more red wine. Let simmer for about 1 1/2- 2 hours until the meat is tender and the stew has reduced to a glossy sauce. Half-way through the cooking, add the rest of the herbs – add more liquid as necessary.
- 10 min before serving, prepare the polenta: Using the ratio 4:1 – parts boiling vegetable stock to polenta (cornmeal). Pour the polenta into the boiling liquid, add a few pinches of salt and whisk over medium heat until it becomes thick, pulls away from the sides, and is creamy (approx. 10 min). Drizzle some olive oil over the polenta and whisk once more before serving.
- To serve: using a ladle, scoop some polenta onto a plate so that it creates a base for the stew. Spoon the stew over it, spilling over the polenta.