Last February I led the first Food Meets Faith pilgrimage to the Holy Land. We were there for 11 days. We spent the first 4 days in the northern region around Nazareth, and the remainder of the trip we stayed in Jerusalem and traveled during the day to sacred spots either in the city or in areas surrounding Jerusalem, like Bethlehem. [Incidentally, my next pilgrimage to the Holy Land will be February 26 to March 8, 2015 and there is still room! Come with us!]
The restaurant was literally next door to Shepherds Field, the place where the angels appeared to the shepherds to announce to them the good news of Jesus’ birth. The dinner was preceded by a short presentation and cooking demonstration by the organization Chefs for Peace.
Chefs for Peace is a non-profit, non-political organization. founded in the Holy City of Jerusalem in November 2001 by a group of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim chefs committed to working for peace through food.
Chefs for Peace understands food – its preparation, sharing, and enjoyment – as a powerful means of creating a bond with others and revealing that which is valued by all three faiths: food, family and friends. The organization works to bring people together, understanding the power of food as a bridge to mutual acceptance. Chefs for Peace sees peace as a delicious possibility for everyone, because they experience that peace every day in the kitchen and around the table.
I was blessed to meet some of the Chefs for Peace: Chef Nabil M. Aho, Chef George Alemian, and Chef Moshe Basson. I admire the work they are doing, and I was honored to have been invited to cook alongside them.
On this particular night at The Grotto, Chef Nabil asked me to assist him in the cooking demonstration. I confess that I was somewhat in the dark about what we were preparing… and I was nervous to be “on stage” in front of the group. But Chef Nabil was a great teacher and coach, so it all worked out well in the end.
That night we prepared lamb stew for the group. We demonstrated the recipe using a single-serving, large clay pot. I don’t recall the portions from that night, but lamb (not boneless) went into the pot, along with a few different vegetables: onion, garlic, potatoes, carrots. Chef Nabil pointed out that it’s important to cut the vegetables all about the same size for even cooking. After the vegetables were chopped and added to the pot, we then added seasonings (salt, pepper, cumin, cinnamon and allspice), and filled the pot with lamb stock. Finally, Chef Nabil placed an uncooked round of Arabic bread on top of the pot to seal it. With that, the demonstration was over, everyone applauded, and we proceeded to the tables for the mezze.
Chefs for Peace understands food—its preparation, sharing, and enjoyment—as a powerful means of creating a bond with others and revealing that which is valued by all three faiths: food, family, and friends.
What we did not know was that the chefs had prepared a single-serving pot for each of us. This was a big meal! After the mezze, and some wine, the lamb stew was brought out, each of them topped with Arabic bread. It was quite a sight! The recipe below is my version of lamb stew. I don’t have a collection of single-serving clay pots in my kitchen, so I just use one big pot. I made a few other changes too. I use kafta instead of bone-in lamb, and I roast my potatoes before adding them to the stew.
Kafta is a meatball made of lamb. It can also be made out of beef. Sometimes you will see it formed on a skewer and grilled instead of as a meatball. For this recipe, the meatballs work best. I got the idea for the potatoes from Cook’s Illustrated. Parboiling and roasting the potatoes first may seem like a lot of unnecessary work, but I think it makes a difference in the flavor of the stew. It also helps the potatoes to retain their shape. If you wait to add them toward the end, then you’ll discover that some of the potatoes will still be crispy when you bite into them.
- 2 lbs. prepared kafta (lamb meatballs). You can also substitute beef – [recipe here]
- 2 to 3 lbs. Yellow Yukon Gold potatoes
- 4 tablespoons olive oil (for the potatoes)
- 3 teaspoons of salt (for the potatoes)
- 2 28 oz. cans petite diced tomatoes
- 2 cups of chicken stock
- 2 large onions, chopped
- ¼ cup regular olive oil
- Coarse ground kosher salt, to taste
- ½ tsp black pepper
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- 1 cup chopped parsley, as garnish
- Preheat the oven to 450.
- Make the kafta and shape into meatballs. Brown them in olive oil over medium to medium-high heat, then set them aside.
- Par-boil the potatoes. To do so, thoroughly wash them and cut them into ½-inch thick rounds. Place them in a large pot and cover with cold water, making sure that the potatoes are covered by at least an inch. Add 1 teaspoon of salt to the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Once they come to a boil, you may need to turn the heat down a little bit, but allow them to boil for about 5 minutes. You don’t want the potatoes to fully cook. You are only looking to parboil the potatoes and to draw out some of the starch and sugar of the potatoes.
- Drain the potatoes and transfer them to a large mixing bowl. Working quickly, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and ½ teaspoon of salt, and mix together well using a rubber spatula. After mixing well, add another 2 tablespoons of olive oil and another ½ teaspoon of salt. Once the potatoes start to look and feel pasty on the outside transfer them to a large baking sheet, laying them out in a single layer. Use two baking sheets if necessary.
- Place on the lowest racks in the oven and bake at 450 for about 20 minutes.
- Once the potatoes are crispy on the bottom, remove the baking sheets from the oven and carefully flip the potatoes. Return baking sheets to oven and continue to bake for another 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer the potatoes to a cooling rack. Once the potatoes are cool, cut them into quarters and set aside.
- Pan-fry the onions in a little oil over medium to medium-high heat until they are soft and translucent. Add the petite diced tomatoes and the chicken stock, as well as the spices. Reduce heat to medium or medium-low and simmer gently for 30 minutes.
- Add the browned meatballs and the potatoes to the pot and continue to simmer for another 20 minutes.
- Serve in bowls and garnish with chopped parsley.
Rice Pilaf is the traditional accompaniment to this stew.
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