Every Rosh Hashanah I cook a Jewish Tunisian dish called pkaila (or bkeila). My mom, grandmothers and great grandmothers did the same, every year, for generations. Since I am married and my mom is no longer with us, it is important for me to keep the tradition alive.
We prepare this dish not only for Rosh Hashanah, but also when there is something to celebrate, like a birth or a wedding. The truth is, I love it so much that I cook it sometimes for Shabbat, too, served alone or over couscous.
The main ingredient is spinach, which is fried softly for hours until it looks like a confit. You can find it in kosher stores (it is called pkaila) already cooked, or you can do it yourself by following the recipe below. I promise, it is super easy! The recipe calls for 450g spinach, but I usually cook a kilogram — it keeps in the fridge for at least two weeks.
The finished stew keeps up to one week in the fridge, or up to three months in the freezer.
For the spinach confit:
- 1 lb (450 g) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
- 1 cup canola oil
For the pkaila:
- 1/3 cup spinach confit
- 8 oz (200 g) dry white beans (or, as my mom used to say, one handful per person), soaked overnight
- 1 lb (450 g) stew beef meat, cut into 1-inch chunks
- 2 bone marrow (optional)
- 1 tsp harissa paste or 2 garlic cloves
- small bunch of fresh mint, finely chopped
- small bunch of fresh dill, finely chopped
- 2 Tbsp canola oil
- 2 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
- To make the spinach confit: Ensure you have removed as much water from the spinach as possible. Add it to a large, deep frying pan over high heat. Stir constantly for a few minutes until the water has evaporated.
- Turn the heat to medium and add 1/2 cup oil. Cook and stir frequently for 30 minutes.
- Turn the heat to low, add another 1/4 cup oil and gently cook until the spinach is dark green/almost black and very dry, stirring occasionally for 60-90 minutes. When your confit is ready, put it in a sterilized jar and add the remaining 1/4 cup oil. Store in the fridge until needed. Spinach confit can be made up to one month in advance.
- To make the pkaila: Heat oil in a pot over medium-high heat, then add the spinach confit, beef chunks, and bone marrow (if using); cook until the meat begins to brown, 5-6 minutes. If you’re using garlic, add it now.
- Add 5 cups of water (1.25 liters), and turn the heat to low. Cover the pot with a lid and simmer the beef until almost tender, about 1.5-2 hours.
- Add the beans. If the pot looks dry, add an additional cup of water, or as needed so that the beans and beef are submerged in liquid. Cover again and allow the beans to simmer until tender, about 1 hour.
- Once the beef and beans are tender, add the harissa, salt, mint, dill, and continue to simmer over low heat for an additional 30 minutes.