Beet Stew:A Sofreh for the departed
A custom among the Jews of Shiraz was giving a Sofreh, a spread for a Nazr ( a vow to G-D to do a charitable action, to give food for health and well-being a loved one), but also for the anniversary of a dear one’s passing.
Every year, my paternal grandmother, Khanombozorg orchestrated a Sofreh for her departed husband, my grandfather, Mola Meir Moshe Dayanim, a Dayan, a judge and leader of the Jewish community of Shiraz, on the anniversary of his passing, on 2nd of Kislev, 5709 (Hebrew date), December 4, 1948.
Daee-Bozorg, Aghajan Ghalgeer, my grandmother’s brother was in charge of hiring men who could recite the Tehilim (psalms) and prayers. We had to have at least 10 men for a minyan. They showed up with Dayee-Bozorg and found a space to sit on the floor, backs leaned against the wall for support. A Sofreh was spread on the Persian carpet in the middle of the room. Tea and sugar cubes were served all night. Sweet wine, too, was served for prayers as were different fruits and vegetables for prayers for different species. Invariably, too many brakhot, prayers were said over the wine and when we went to sleep, the men dozed off as well and were often found fast asleep instead of staying up all night to pray.
Photograph: Khanombozorg with her son, Dr. Behrooz Dayanim
Photograph: Khanombozorg with her children and grandchildren as she smokes her waterpipe.
Khanombozorg was in charge of the meal. The men wanted a stew with beef. We rarely ate red meat. It was often an ingredient to infuse flavor. One exception was abgoosht, a stew of braised beef and vegetables.
Photograph: Once in a while, Khanombozorg hired helpers for food preparation. In the background, her mother Bibi Zaghi enjoys the sunny day.
For the Sofreh, Khanombozorg chose Abghosht Choghandar, beet stew, which these men often asked for. They used fewer red beans in the stew for this Sofreh to reduce the emittance of flatulence in a small room. The readers often tore their flatbread and soaked it in the sweet gravy of the abghoosht and ate it with a spoon. This soaking of bread in soups and stews was called tilliteh.
Khanomborzg passed away thirty-one years ago on 14 Tevet, 5750, 11 January 1990. Since the Hebrew calendar is Lunar, the anniversary of her passing fell on 29 December 2020. This entry is a digital Sofreh for her.
2 lbs stew beef cut in large chunks, or 2 lbs beef shank
6 med beets, peeled and cut in quarters
1 C red beans
1 large onion sliced
1 T oil
1 t turmeric
Salt and pepper to taste
1 T sugar (Iranian beets are sweeter and don’t bleed. I add sugar to achieve the flavor I remember)
Braise the beef with onions and turmeric for about 15 minutes. Add beans and enough water to stand about 5 inches above the ingredients. You have to check the liquid often and add more water as needed.
When the beans and beef are softer, but not quite tender, add beets, including their chopped leaves, salt, pepper and sugar. Cook until all ingredients are tender.
Depending on the kind of meat and beans you are using, cooking time may differ. Beef shanks cook much faster.
Serve with flatbread!