Beef Cheek Stew With Kidney Beans. Photo by Shani Brill
In many Sephardi and Mizrachi families, like my own, Rosh Hashanah dinner begins with a series of blessings over symbolic foods that impart wishes for the year ahead. The blessing “May we be the head and not the tail, and that our merits will multiply,” is often said over a fish head, but in my family, we say it over beef cheeks, a tender and rich cut. My grandmother would cook the cheeks simply with water and salt — she also added lungs to the mixture so our iniquities would be light as air. Since she passed away, we have divided the preparation of the food for the blessings between the family members and I am the one responsible for the head. I tweaked the recipe a bit to make the blessing stand out as especially delightful.
While the meat and beans are cooked together, I recommend serving them separately so a blessing can also be made over the beans.
35 oz / 1 kg kidney beans, soaked overnight in plenty of cold water and drained
Cloves from 3 garlic heads, peeled and whole
1 bunch thyme
1 cup / 240ml high quality honey
Add the kidney beans in a large pot. Place the pieces of meat, garlic cloves, thyme, and honey on top. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil over a high heat. Use a spoon to skim the foam that rises to the surface, season generously with black pepper, cover and reduce to a low heat. Cook for 1 hour, until the beans soften.
Season with salt, taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Cover and gently simmer over a low heat for 4 hours.
To serve: Transfer the beef cheeks to a serving plate and the beans to another. Drizzle honey over the beans and serve.