There is a saying in my house: ‘you can’t beat Tbeet.’ It’s hard to serve up chicken and rice in a more appetising way. I can almost smell the aroma of cardamon and turmeric rising from the photograph. Excuse me, dear reader, while I hurry off to the kitchen. I’ll leave it to Vered Guttman, food blogger at Haaretz, to resurrect her great aunt Toya’s Tbeet recipe for you:
In her modest, shack-like home in southern Israel, my great aunt Toya served some of the best food I’ve ever tasted.
After my Iraqi grandmother, Rachel, passed away, her cousin Toya (Victoria) Levy took it upon herself to fill void in our hearts and in our bellies. One of her duties was to prepare tbeet for us on shabbat.
Tbeet is the Iraqi version of a Shabbat overnight stew. A chicken is stuffed with a mixture made of its inner parts, rice and spices, then covered with more rice, topped with hard boiled eggs and cooked overnight. The rice comes out moist and flavorful, the chicken so soft you can literally chew the bones.
The tradition of the Shabbat overnight stews grew from the desire to serve a hot meal on Shabbat, while keeping the Jewish law that prohibited lighting fire on the holy day. Women prepared the dish on Friday and baked it overnight, usually in a communal bakery, so it was ready at lunch time the next day when the men came back from synagogue.
Many people are familiar with the Ashkenazi (Eastern-European) Shabbat stew, the cholent, that is made of beans, potatoes and meat.
But Shabbat stews developed all over the Diaspora, and each community had its own version, using some of the local spices and ingredient that were available to them.
The Iraqi Jews had the tbeet; Yemenites had jachnoon and the kubaneh (both are basically breads that are baked all night and served with spicy tomato salsa); the North African communities had the d’fina, or skheena, a stew of meat, chickpeas, grains and spices; and the Sephardi Jews of Jerusalem had their own version of Shabbat stew, made with beans, meat and bread patties, called chamin.