Sunday, December 1, 2013

Mafrum : meat stuffed vegetables cooked in a spicy tomato sauce















Mafrum is a fabulous stuffed vegetable dish originating in Libya.  

We learned to prepare it from Shalom H., an Israeli friend whose family comes from Egypt. Watching Shalom cook is a treat - he has an innate talent for cooking - we slowed him down by asking him to actually measure and describe what he was doing as he cooked. We look forward to sitting in his new kitchen to continue learning from him.....


Mafrum, I have recently learned from a colleague, has some similarities to a Puerto Rican/ Latin American dish called Rellenos de Papa  or Papas Rellenas (stuffed potatoes). Perhaps Mafrum, a North African/Middle Eastern dish has Spanish roots as well.  Maybe all roads making use of nightshade plants (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers- sweet & hot) lead back to Christopher Columbus.

From my limited research Libyans favor stuffing eggplant for their mafrum (eggplant is a nightshade plant originating in India), Israelis favor stuffing potatoes; Shalom said we could also stuff sweet potatoes, eggplant or plantains.

Preparation of mafrum is time consuming, but not difficult. It can be frozen for a short period, but is best served fresh. Since it doesn't require the use of chometz (Shalom instructed us to use matzah meal OR bread crumbs in the meat) we've made mafrum for Passover - an interesting addition to our Ashkenazi table.

This recipe is an amalgam of Shalom's recipe combined with a few ingredients and preparation elements from Jerusalem Cookbook (Ottolenghi & Tamimi, Ten Speed Press, 2012).  Mafrum is traditionally simmered in a covered pot and traditionally the potato is "almost" sliced in half and the slit filled. In Jewish homes it was prepared as a Shabbat lunch dish, meaning that it would simmer overnight in a communal oven or be kept warm on a "platta" (hot plate) overnight. We prepare mafrum using a lightly oiled baking dish, adding a bit of additional water to the sauce covered stuffed vegetables, covering tightly with foil and baking it in a moderate oven for 1 1/2- 2 hours. For those who are Shabbat observant, the tightly covered dish can be transferred to a hot tray and kept overnight if you want to use it for a very impressive Shabbat lunch. The longer the mafrum cooks the creamier the potatoes (or eggplant or plantain) will become. Be careful not to allow it to dry out.

This recipe will easily serve 12-14 as a main dish.

Choreography:

  • Prepare the sauce, simmer while you are working with the meat and stuffing vegetables 
  • Mix the meat filling 
  • Prepare the potatoes or other other vegetables for stuffing 
  • Stuff the vegetables, place in a baking pan
  • Pour sauce over the stuffed vegetables 
  • Cover tightly and bake for 1 1/2 - 2 hours
  • Serve warm with cous-cous or rice 


Ingredients:
The sauce:
(Adjust spices to your taste, use measurements as a starting point.)
1 large onion, diced    
1-2 tsp finely diced garlic
3 stalks celery, chopped
2-3 carrots, diced
small amount of olive oil for sauteing the vegetables
1/4-1/2 tsp chili powder (start slowly, you can always add more)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp caraway seeds (grind or pulverize in a mortar & pestle)
2 Tbsp tamarind paste (can be purchased at Middle Eastern grocery stores)
3 small cans tomato paste (plus 7-8 can-fulls of water, plus more if needed)
2 tsp granulated sugar

The bits of potato or other vegetable centers can be chopped and cooked in the sauce.
Optional sauce additions, according to Shalom, can include zucchini, mushrooms and dried figs. 

Meat Filling: 
(Adjust the spices to your taste)
3 lbs ground beef
1 tsp salt (omit if you are using kosher meat)
1 large onion, diced
1-2 tsp finely diced garlic
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2-1 tsp sweet paprika
1/4-1/2 tsp cumin
1/4-1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4-1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp thyme
1- 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2-1 tsp chopped mint leaves
1/2 cup chopped parsley leaves
4 large eggs
1/2 c matzah meal or bread crumbs
a small amount of lemon zest for any meat being stuffed into plantains


Stuffing Vegetables:

Choice of vegetables to be stuffed:
Yukon gold potatoes, sliced in half and hollowed out with a melon baller
Plaintains, sliced lengthwise and scraped out a bit. Shalom noted on his instructions to add a bit of lemon zest to the meat used for stuffing the plantains
Asian style eggplant, sliced lengthwise, scraped out
Sweet potatoes, sliced lengthwise in half, hollowed out with a melon baller


Procedure: 
1. Prepare the sauce by sauteing the onions until translucent, adding the garlic until it begins to slightly brown, adding the carrots and celery. Stir and cook over low heat until the carrots begin to soften (about 4-5 minutes). If you are adding other vegetable you can add them at this point, or if you are using the vegetable bits after hollowing out the stuffing vegetables, you can add that them after you hollow out those vegetables and simmer the sauce for about 10 additional minutes to make sure the flavors meld.
2. Add the spices and tamarind paste. Stir and bring to a slow simmer.




3. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer. Continue to cook for 10-15 minutes. Add a bit more water if necessary. The sauce should be thick, but spoonable.

4. Prepare the filling by adding the listed ingredients to the ground beef. Mix well and set aside.
5. Prepare the potatoes or other vegetable you plan to fill. Press the meat firmly to fill the cavity, filling each vegetable with enough meat to create a domed top. Place the meat-filled vegetable in the baking dish.
filled potato halves

filled plantain halves

6. Spoon a generous amount of tomato sauce on top of the filled vegetables, add a bit more water to the pan.
7. Cover tightly with foil and bake in the oven, preheated to 350-360 degrees for 1 1/2- 2 hours. Do not open foil, cool in the oven if not serving immediately. 

8. NOTE: Shalom also instructed us that you can make a layered casserole with the same ingredients, omitting the more time consuming step of hollowing out and stuffing the vegetables. Spoon sauce as one of the layers and then again on the top. Cover tightly and bake for 1 1/2- 2 hours. Remove the foil for the last 1/2 hour.