Sephardic (Middle Eastern) Jews celebrate Rosh HaShanah a little differently than Ashkenazi (European) Jews. We have a whole Seder (ceremony) with different foods that correspond to wishes and blessings for the new year. One of the wishes is recited over the head of fish or meat (basically the cheek meat), to wish that we will be the head and not the tail, in shedding light, goodness, and wisdom upon the world.
Every year on the eve of the Jewish new year, my grandmother would cook her special stew, made from the cheek meat of a cow. It was delicious and special, and we only had it once a year, on Rosh HaShanah, so it gave us something to look forward to.
This year, I am very fortunate to have my parents here with us for the Holidays, and I asked my mother to recreate her mother’s cheek meat stew so we could have it at our Holiday table.
And since there was no written recipe or any approximate quantities to rely on, she kind of winged it. Luckily, it turned out very similar to the flavor we remembered, so we are both very happy. And we even wrote down what my mother did, so now we have a recipe. And I’m sharing it with you all. Enjoy!
By the way, I found prepackaged cheek meat at Walmart. It’s by ‘Rumba’, a brand that sells different cuts of meats that you wouldn’t find on the regular meat shelves. If you can’t find the meat in a store near you, you may be able to order it online.
Also, don’t get alarmed by the large amounts of meat. Part of the meat is fat and part of it is connective tissue. Over whole, the recipe feeds about 8-10 people. Of course, you can always buy only half the amount of meat and adjust the recipe accordingly.
7 lb cheek meat
1 large onion, sliced
6 dried bay leaves
1 tbs whole allspice seeds
½ tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp ground nutmeg
Cut the meat into large pieces (about 4 inch), and place in a medium size pot.
Add the onion and the spices and cook on medium-low heat, until the stew starts to boil, then lower the heat to low and cook covered for 2 and a half hours.
Adjust the seasoning as necessary.
The meat should be very tender, and it falls apart, so be careful when you remove it from the pot.
We like to cook the stew in advance. Once it gets to room temperature, we chill it in the fridge for a couple of hours, so we can easily remove most of the fat floating on top. Then, we either freeze it, or heat it up and serve immediately.