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A Hope, a Prayer and a Recipe for Mafrum

We are honored to cook Avinatan’s favorite dish, Mafrum and thought we’d share his story and this recipe with you.
[additional-authors]
November 30, 2023
Photo by Sephardic Spice Girls

One of the first, most harrowing images of the Hamas attacks of October 7th is of a wide-eyed and terrified Noa Argamani on an ATV surrounded by terrorists. It is heartbreaking to watch her cry out in fear, pleading ““Don’t kill me!” She reaches out her arms to her handsome, bearded boyfriend Avinatan Or. But he cannot help her. He is being marched away from her, surrounded by another group of armed terrorists.

While we are so profoundly grateful that some women and children have returned to Israel, it is agonizing to know that so many men, women and children still remain hostage amid harsh conditions in Gaza.

When we saw Jewish influencer Melinda Strauss of @realmelindastraus making goulash, the favorite food of hostage Romi Gonen and cookbook author Adeena Sussman making a cheddar, feta and harissa grilled pita in honor of hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin, we decided we would love to make a recipe in honor of a hostage.

We reached out to Brian Spivak, an American who lives in Tel Aviv and works in high tech and is the brainchild behind the hashtag #recipes4return. In a phone conversation, Brian told us that this social media campaign came about as another way to highlight the very human plight of those held captive in Gaza.

After the attacks of October 7, Brian went into crisis mode, spending his spare time volunteering at hotels where the evacuees were staying and cooking and packaging food for soldiers. A buddy called to tell him about the grassroots organization Hostages and Missing Families Forum, that had sprang up to help with the diplomacy, foreign media and finances around the release of the hostages.

Brian decided he would use his connections in the social media world to spread his message of hope. The idea is simple — social media influencers cook the favorite recipe of a hostage and relay the message that the hostages should come home and eat their favorite meal with their families.

We are honored to cook Avinatan’s favorite dish, Mafrum and thought we’d share his story and this recipe with you. Mafrum is a slow-braised dish of potatoes stuffed with spiced ground beef in a rich tomato sauce. It is the crown jewel of the Libyan Jewish kitchen, a festive meal that is traditionally served on Shabbat and the Jewish holidays. It is incredibly flavorful and delicious and very popular in Israel.

Preparing mafrum involves many steps. First, you prepare the tomato sauce by frying thinly sliced onions until they are translucent, then adding  tomato paste and diced tomatoes. You allow the sauce to simmer slowly as you move on to preparing the stuffed vegetables.

To do that, you have to peel the potatoes, cut them into rounds and soak them in cold water. You prepare the ground beef filling by adding fresh Italian parsley, grated onion and garlic, warm spices like cinnamon and cumin, an egg and bread crumbs and mixing well.

You take the potatoes and stuff each round with the ground beef mixture. You dredge the potatoes in a layer of flour and then you dip them in a bowl of eggs that been whisked with tomato paste.

You heat up a pan of oil and fry the stuffed potatoes, carefully dropping each one in the rich tomato sauce. After baking in a slow oven, you are finally ready to serve the mafrum on a bed of light, fluffy couscous, a perfect backdrop to the intense flavors of the stuffed veggies.

Avinatan is the second of seven brothers and grew up in the town of Shilo. He is an electrical engineer and a graduate of Ben-Gurion University in the Negev.

He loves reading and hosting friends. His friends and family describe him as someone who takes life easily, a true optimist with a great sense of fun.

He lives in Tel Aviv and he and Noa were planning to move in together.

We are praying for the safe release of Noa and Avinatan. We are hoping that they feel the warm embrace of their families and are nourished with some festive and delicious mafrum.

MAFRUM

6 large russet potatoes
1 cup avocado or vegetable oil, for frying
2 carrots, to keep oil clear while frying

Meat stuffing:
1 pound ground beef
1 bunch Italian parsley, washed and chopped
1 large onion, grated
1 large egg
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cumin
¼ cup breadcrumbs
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Coating:
2 cups all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
1 Tbsp tomato paste
½ tsp salt
Sauce:
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 15oz can diced tomatoes
4 Tbsp tomato paste
1 lemon, juiced
2 cups water
1 Tbsp paprika
2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar

Peel the potatoes. Use a sharp knife to cut them into 1 inch rounds, then slice the rounds 3/4 of the way down the middle. Place the potato pieces in a bowl of cold water.
In a medium bowl, combine the ground beef, parsley, onion, egg, salt and pepper, cinnamon, breadcrumbs and olive oil.
Drain and dry the potatoes.
Stuff the pocket of the potato with a generous tablespoon of the meat mixture. Press meat inside and place on a tray. Repeat the process until all the potatoes are stuffed.
In a bowl, whisk the eggs, tomato paste and salt until the tomato paste has dissolved.
Place flour on a large plate.
In a large, heavy skillet, heat the oil and add a chunk of carrot.
Dredge the stuffed potatoes in the flour. Coat all sides and tap off any excess, then dip into the egg mixture and place on a tray.
When oil is hot, start frying the potatoes in small batches, about 3-5 minutes, until golden on both sides.
Place fried potatoes on a rack to drain excess oil.
In a large pan, warm oil over medium heat and add sliced onions. Sauté until the onions start to turn a golden brown.
Add the tomato paste, spices and sugar and sauté a few minutes. Stir in the can of diced tomatoes, lemon juice and water and bring sauce to a boil.
Reduce heat, then cover and allow to simmer for 10 minutes.
Place the stuffed, fried potatoes into the sauce, cover and simmer for another 45 minutes.
Before serving, place mafrum in apreheated (350°F) oven for 15 minutes to heat and add a glaze to the tops of the potatoes.


Rachel Sheff and Sharon Gomperts have been friends since high school. They love cooking and sharing recipes. They have collaborated on Sephardic Educational Center projects and community cooking classes. Follow them on Instagram @sephardicspicegirls and on Facebook at Sephardic Spice SEC Food.

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