Every Saturday morning during my childhood, while I was still sluggish in my bed with the soporific smells emanating from the kitchen, I could hear my mother welcome our dedicated Fatéma.
She would say hello with the traditional question she’d ask on a Saturday morning, the question that she asked to this great woman who worked at our place and who, following her arrival at dawn (fel fejjarine), was responsible for delivering her verdict (yes, it was definitely a verdict!) by giving her opinion to mom about the famous «skhina» aka dafina (or daf for the initiated) of the shabbat. Fatéma inevitably had to tell mom whether the dafina was a success or not as a way to say “hello”! Why? Well simply because once we placed the dafina on the stove (or hot plate) on Friday night before sunset, we could not touch it (to modify anything including adjusting the heat) before serving the next day. So it’s always kind of a gamble for the cook: in the morning, the daf is either too white, too caramelized, too dry, or it could very well be burnt, even though the same process and recipes are followed each week to prepare it…
Multiple answers could follow:
“Very nice o Madam” (rzaaaa – ya lala) or “Oh lala… lala!” “Madam, it is still white” (willi willi ya lala !, mazala béda !) followed by a “did you forget to put dates, Madam?’ (Yak ma nsiti dirri tmarr, ya lala) To eventually finish on a positive note (always optimistic): “no no, don’t worry Madam, by the time Mister is back from the synagogue, it will be beautiful” (la la matkhafish ya lala, mlli radi yiji msiou mssslâ, rad tkoune rzaaaala).
And, indeed, it never failed! Until today it is ‘the’ specialty of Mommy Abitbol! A pure delight for the taste buds!
“Dafina” is a Judeo-Arab word, also known as skhina. Dafina has Tunisian and Algerian variants called tfina, tafina, matfun, etc. But we are talking about dafina here, aka skhina or daf! Dafina means “covered, very hot, suffocated” and it is named after the cooking method. The Jewish religion forbids cooking during the day of Shabbat. The dafina, which is precooked before Shabbat, will continue cooking, simmering, caramelizing for at least 20 hours either on an electric hot plate (plata), or as more recently adopted, in a crock pot aka slow cooker equipped with a thermostat.
Moroccan Dafina is slightly different depending on the cities it originates from in Morocco. Each region has its recipe, its little addition, and each region likes to claim that theirs is the best. Personally, I consider that the one from Fez is the best… however, all these variants remain quite similar.
My recipe comes from my mother and she received it herself from her mother. A recipe from the city of Fez. I would happily say, with a bit of pretension, that it is very commonly said that the cuisine from Fez is the most famous of Morocco (along with the one from Mogador Essaouira).
For me, this meal is synonymous with warm moments around large family tables that friends would often join. Those parties always ended in songs charged with emotions in this family of musicians that has seen me be born.
Today, I share my secrets with you…
- 6 lb small white potatoes
- 2 pieces calf's foot
- 1 lb beef cheek
- 1 lb braising steak
- 4 dates
- 2 cups chickpeas (soaked overnight)
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar (or white sugar), for the caramel
- ½ cup sunflower oil
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- White pepper
- 12 eggs
- ½ lb wheatberry
- ¼ cup sunflower oil
- 1 teaspoon ground ñora
- 3 garlic cloves , crushed
- 1 whole garlic head
- 2 sweet dried peppers
- 2 dried chili peppers (or 1 dried pimento pepper)
- 1 small piece beef
- 2 rice cooking bags
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 large onion
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 small bunch parsley leaves
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 pinches ground mace
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
Prepare a caramel. If you're using a slow cooker, prepare the caramel with the sugar in a small saucepan and pour it onto the bottom of the slow cooker.
Add the chickpeas, then add the potatoes on top with the cow's foot in the middle and the dates scattered around the pot. Add the meat on top. Add the spices, salt, pepper and pour boiling water on top.
Turn the cooker on high immediately after mixing the ingredients by slowly moving the pot from side to side to allow the spices to infuse. Add the oil.
Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl. Add twice the volume of water and the washed unpeeled garlic head. Put the ingredients in a cooking bag. Do not seal the bag. Roll the edges and place on top of the other ingredients.
Cook 2 bags of rice in a saucepan. Put aside. You'll add it to the pot early Saturday morning. You will therefore have to keep some room for it in the pot.
Mix the ground beef with all the ingredients except the egg, breadcrumbs and spices. Add the rest of the ingredients. Mix well. Form one or two long thick sausages depending on the room left in the pot. Wrap the meat in parchment paper or in a cooking bag and set it on top.
Finally, add the eggs.
If you're using a traditional pot: you need to start your dafina at around 10 am on Friday (the day before serving) on a high temperature and lower the heat once the potatoes are cooked until it is time to put on the hot plate. Depending on the power of your hot plate, you will need to check the level of liquid. Typically, as soon as the pot is on the hot plate the level should be 3/4 high.
If you're using a slow cooker, the thermostat should be set on "high" all day Friday and then turned to "low" just before Shabbat. The level of liquid should be the same as in a classic pot.
In both cases, add a heavy cloth on top of the pot to cook “à l’étouffée” or stew the dafina until you are ready to serve.
Mistakes to avoid