Historian David Gitlitz’s book is the culmination of many years of research work in which Gitlitz cracked the testimony that neighbors and acquaintances gave to Inquisition investigators, and which described the lifestyle of martyred Jews or converts (Morano’s) who were suspected of continuing to maintain a Jewish lifestyle in secret. The testimonies detail customs such as preparing the house for Shabbat, lighting candles, avoiding flour on spring days, and other eating habits: descriptions of foods and half-recipes that witnesses brought as evidence of practicing Jews – mainly slow cooked foods prepared for Shabbat (chamin), food specific to Jewish holidays, or dishes that used raw materials considered particularly Jewish (eggplants and chickpeas prominent among them). In Gitlitz’s book you find excerpts from the Hillel testimonies, background on the families involved, explanations of the socio-political climate and the culinary background that existed at the time, and 90 recipes that Gitlitz extracted from the testimonies, tested and restored, and recreated versions as faithful as possible to the original.
Gitlitz found this recipe amongst the evidence from the trial of widow Isabel Nunez, which took place in 1621, almost 130 years after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. Nunez, 38, was arrested after her husband’s son (out of wedlock) accused her of practicing Judaism. He claimed that she observed Shabbat – that is, cleaned the house thoroughly on Fridays, lit Shabbat candles and blessed them. Furthermore, he testified that Isabel couldn’t even stand the smell of pork and that on Shabbat she usually ate special, slow cooked foods, including this dish. Gitlitz says that fortunately, Isabel’s investigators did not believe that they had enough evidence to convict her and after two and a half years on trial, she was released.
Chef Yehi Zino, who recreated some of the fish recipes from Gitlitz’s book as part of the FOODISH “Meals from the Book” festival, says that of all the recipes he tried from the book, this is his favorite. “Fanni, my mother, prepares a recipe for Shabbat that is almost identical to this one, only instead of fish, we make it with throats (and so that’s how we call it at home – throats), and instead of fresh ginger we season with zangvil (a local Israeli ginger).” Yehi, who doesn’t like it overly sweet, replaced the raisins with fried onions (he slow fries a kilo of onions (weight before peeling) until they are browned, reduced, and caramelized, then uses ½ cup of them). The recipe below is a quick version and you can give it a night in the oven and eat it on Shabbat (see instructions at the end of the recipe).
Ingredients for Fish and Chickpea Stew
- ½ teaspoon saffron threads
- 1 cup water hot
For the Spice Mixture:
- 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 4 teaspoons ginger Peeled and finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon Salt
For the Fish:
- 1.1 lbs (500 grams) halibut fish or skinless lavrak cut into cubes of about .4" (1 cm) or a 600 gram steak
For the Herb Mixture:
- 4 teaspoons chives chopped
- 2 teaspoons oregano fresh, chopped
- 2 teaspoons cilantro dried
- 14 oz (400 grams) chickpeas soaked overnight, cooked and drained (weight after cooking and draining)
- 1 cup raisins or ½ cup fried onions
1. Crush the saffron threads a little (in a mortar and pestle) and transfer to a small pot, add hot water and bring to the boil, stir once, remove from heat and set aside.
2. Pour olive oil into a wide, flat oven safe pot over medium heat, add all the ingredients for the spice mixture, heat together while stirring constantly for a minute or two so that they release their flavors. Meanwhile, mix all the herbs in a separate bowl.
3. Add the chickpeas, raisins or fried onions, the saffron water along with the threads, and the herb mixture to the seasoned oil. Add water to cover. Cover the pot and cook over a low flame for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally - the stew will become a sort of thick slurry.
4. Just before the end of cooking, heat the oven to 480F degrees (250C).
5. Place the pieces of fish on top of the chickpeas and transfer the pot to the oven. Roast (uncovered) for about 25 minutes. If you want to prepare the dish in the Shabbat version: heat the oven to 210F degrees (100C), place the fish on the chickpeas, cover the pot and roast overnight. About ten minutes before serving, remove the cover.