Perched in the hills of central Israel, between its two major cities, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, lies the steadily growing city of Modi’in. Pale, modern apartment buildings and palm trees fill the rocky landscape and new malls complete with international and Israeli brands pulsate with people on a Saturday night.
Like so many places around Israel, a town that’s a small seedling one year can somehow burst into a young tree budding with life the next. Five years since I visited last, a city on the other side of the highway from the Maccabbean graves is a modern destination for both secular and religious families alike.
Much like Riverdale, Modi’in is a short drive from a major city and in it, a Friday morning teems with errands and preparations for Shabbat. A popular recipe common among many Israeli families but varying based on ethnicity and taste is a White Bean Soup.
Miriam Levy has prepared this traditional recipe for over 40 years. Now the grandmother of three, Levy deftly and quickly gathers the ingredients for the soup and four other dishes, while chatting over the phone and jotting down a shopping list for her husband Shaul.
In just a short half hour, 45 small meatballs have been rolled for a flavorful artichoke dish, a whipped vanilla cheesecake is in the oven, and hearty soup enriched with various cuts of meat, garlic and tomato comes to a slow simmer over the stove. “Tic, tac, I’m finished,” Miriam laughs as she gesticulates the act of quick completion with her hands.
And truly, she isn’t kidding. An hour later, she’s dressed, makeup and hair perfect, the cheesecake comes out of the oven, and the soup still continues to cook over the stove. Levy leaves the soup there and we depart for an afternoon in the narrow traverse of the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv. There, her husband Shaul expertly navigates the stalls, picking persimmons, giant ripe figs, small stem-on strawberries and sweet mandarins to enjoy after dessert.
When we return four hours later, the vestibule outside the Levy’s apartment is heavy with the heady aroma of garlic and spices. Shaul tastes the soup and proclaims in hebrew that the color, flavor, and viscosity are ideal but it needs a little more salt and pepper. This soup, while so simple, is a labor of love and like so many things this couple does, a combined effort.
At the last moment just before her grandchildren Yarin, Amit, and Lian arrive, Miriam steams a pot of white rice while Shaul transfers the soup to large tureen to serve tableside.
They repeat the same procedure the following night and Shaul quickly chops a large handful cilantro, garlic and jalapeno pepper into 3 neat piles. He doles out servings of rice and over it tendons, meat, beans and broth. He asks us if we like fresh cilantro and spices and sprinkles a little of each over the meat. Shaul stirs the remaining aromatics into the large bowl of broth and serves us each a separate serving alongside the meat and rice.
*This piece was originally published in The Riverdale Press for my column What's Cooking
Serving Size: serves 8-12
1 lb. Dry White Beans, soaked in cold water overnight
6-10, 2” thick pcs. Oxtail
8-10, 6” long pcs. Beef Tendon
6-10, 3” pcs. Beef Stewing Meat or Muscle
3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 small can Tomato Paste
3 Tbsps. Sweet Paprika
1/2 tsp. Hot Paprika (optional)
1/2 tsp. Ground Cumin
2 Tbsps. Kosher Chicken Bouillon (Vita, available in Kosher markets)
1 tsp. sugar
Kosher Salt, as needed
Freshly Ground Pepper, as needed
1 Spicy Jalapeno or Serrano Pepper
1/2 Cup Cilantro, rinsed and dried
3 Cloves garlic, minced
Cooked Basmati Rice
1) Place the beans and beef in large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a light boil and lower heat to a gentle simmer, skimming often. Dilute the tomato paste and add to the pot along with the spices and sugar. Season with salt and pepper.
2) Cook over low heat for 5-6 hours, seasoning ever so often. Beef and tendons should be very tender and the soup should be viscous and a deep amber hue. You may serve immediately but the soup is far better the following day.
3) Just before serving, chop the garlic and cilantro and place in a small bowl. Mince the pepper and add toss to combine. Serve the broth and beans in individual bowls and the beef and tendons over cooked white basmati rice. If desired, sprinkle with the freshly chopped garnish. Fresh bread may also be served to dip in the soup.
To save time, use canned white cannellini beans. Beef tendons can sometimes be challenging to find. Talk to your local butcher or try visiting ethnic food markets to source this ingredient. Its delicate, gelatinous texture might not be appetizing to obstinate palates but if you love braised meat, I guarantee you won’t want to miss this key ingredient.
n a pinch, I have made this dish substituted with 2 cans of rinsed chickpeas and 1 lb. of diced boneless short rib and it was equally delicious.