Sunday, July 24, 2016

Spicy Tripolitan Chicken and Vegetable Tbeha

One of the biggest sacrifices I've made during residency is the time apart from family and loved ones. Though we have a rather high level of baseline dysfunction, I adore my family and cherish the time I can spend with them. What I miss the most is definitely our weekly Friday night shabbat dinners. For those who have never celebrated, shabbat is a Jewish holiday that occurs every week, from Friday evening until sundown on Saturday. Like other holidays, religious or secular, there are lots of family traditions, many related to food. (Obviously...This is a food blog).

Shabbat Challah
Salmon in Chriameh Sauce 
Matzo Ball Soup
Stuffed Artichoke with Peas & Dill 
"Traditional" Beef Tbeha
Saffron Rice w/ Barberries & Pistachios

Before we move on, I need to give a shoutout to my beautiful mother.  Whether cooking just for herself and my father or for the times when a giant table needs to be set up in the foyer to accommodate everyone, she makes a lavish feast each and every week. My over the top approach to entertaining and the need to throw elaborate dinner parties certainly comes from my mother, though I take it to extremes that we won't discuss here.

Radiant inside and out
My lovely parents and a makeshift table set in the foyer

Anyone who attends a shabbat dinner, or really any holiday meal with my family will likely overeat, drink one (probably two) glasses of wine too many...perhaps even break out into spontaneous song and dance. We *always have a great time. (*That of course omits any memories of the many family fights, yelling matches, table flipping, and meltdowns. Nope, none of that in my sugar-coated fairytale family).

For me, what truly embodies shabbat, and can instantly bring me back home...sitting with my parents and siblings at the dining room a bowl of my family's signature Libyan stew, better known as tbeha (pictured above). Tbeha is actually a broad term for many stews from Tripoli, where my family is from. But the version my family makes week after week (since before I was born) is made with flanken, sweet and white potatoes, and green beans cooked in a slightly sweet and spicy tomato sauce seasoned with baharat (Middle Eastern spice blend) as well as hot and sweet paprika. Served over couscous. It's amazing (and definitely a future blog post).

My sister doesn't eat red meat, so my mom make a second tbeha every week using chicken. She uses boneless chicken thighs that most butchers can prepare, but I just use thighs and legs still on the bone. The vegetables in the chicken version are usually the same as the beef tbeha, but during the summer I enjoy putting a seasonal twist on the dish. I made this tbeha with potato, zucchini, chickpeas, English peas, and haricot vert. Serve it over wholewheat couscous to complete this heart healthy, well balanced, and ridiculously delicious meal.

Chicken and vegetable tbeha
Shabbat feast

Tips/Tricks to Make the Perfect Chicken and Vegetable Tbeha:
  • Make sure you have a good quality, large (at least 8 quart) pot with a lid. 
    • If your pot is too small, the food won't cook evenly and the bottom may burn. 
    • The stew may also overflow and spill all over your stove and counters. (Flashback to college..It's a huge mess).
  •   You can find baharat online or at specialty markets, but if you have a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, it's really easy to blend yourself.
  • The chicken on the bone tends to fall apart easily
    •  Minimize stirring while cooking. Instead, shake the pot back and forth to mix. 
    • Also, be careful while serving. To serve, you may find it easier to transfer the top layers of vegetables to a different bowl so that you can more easily access the chicken.
    • If you prefer chicken without skin or bones, you can have your butcher cut you boneless, skinless chicken thighs. White meat will dry out. 
  • The recipe as written is mild. I prefer it hotter.
    • For a spicier dish, adjust the proportions of sweet to hot paprika.
    • Add more hot and less sweet paprika for a nice kick
  • Use fresh ingredients when possible
    • It's okay to use frozen peas
    • Don't use frozen haricot vert or green beans. Better to omit the ingredient. 
    • I use canned chickpeas, but dried are also great. 
  • To substitute canned for dried chickpeas:
    • Soak dried chickpeas in water overnight. (~1/4 cup dried chickpeas to replace one 15.5 oz can).
    • Drain and rinse.
    • Place chickpeas in a pot, cover with plenty of water, add a pinch of kosher salt (about 1/4 - 1/2 tsp), bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.
    • Cook until softened, but not mushy. (45-60 minutes, but may take longer).
    • Drain and set aside.
  • Make plenty of couscous and pour generous amount of tbeha sauce on each plate. 

Chicken and Vegetable Tbeha Ingredients:
  • 4 pounds chicken legs and thighs, fat trimmed
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 (6 oz) can tomato paste 
  • 1.5 tablespoons (plus extra) sweet paprika
  • 2 tablespoons (plus extra) hot paprika
  • 1.5 tablespoons (plus extra) baharat (recipe follows)
  • 3 Yukon Gold or all-purpose potatoes, pealed, halved lengthwise, then cut crosswise in halves or thirds
  • 2 zucchinis, peeled and cut into chunks roughly the size of the potato pieces 
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black paper
  • 1(15.5 oz) can salt free chickpeas, drained (or 1/4 cup dried chickpeas, cooked per instructions above).  
    • May add up to 2 cans chickpeas, if desired. 
  • 1 pound green peas (fresh or frozen)
  • 2/3 to 1 pound haricot vert (or green beans), ends trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • Couscous (for serving)

Baharat Spice Blend:
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 small cinnamon stick, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
  • 1/2 whole nutmeg, grated

Combine the baharat ingredients in a spice grinder and grind finely. Store in an airtight container.

Chicken and Vegetable Tbeha Recipe:
Heat olive oil in a large pot (at least 8 quart capacity) over medium heat. Add onions and cook until softened, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the tomato paste followed by sweet paprika, hot paprika, and baharat. Add 2 cups of water, mixing until well combined. Layer the chicken on top of the tomato sauce. Next add the potatoes followed by the zucchini. Add enough water to just barely cover the the vegetables, about 4 cups. Add 1.5 tablespoon of kosher salt and a pinch of black pepper. Bring to a gentle boil and cook covered for 30 minutes.

Add the chickpeas, green peas, parsley, 1/4 tablespoon hot paprika, 1/4 tablespoon sweet paprika, 1/4 tablespoon baharat, and 1/4 tablespoon kosher salt. Mix gently by shaking the pot back and forth till combined. Taste sauce and add more salt as needed. Add a layer of haricot vert to the simmering stew, making sure each bean is at least partially submerged in sauce. Do not overfill the pot.

Bring the sauce back to a boil, then lower heat and simmer partially covered until the vegetables are soft, about 1 hour. Shake the pot occasionally to mix.  Carefully serve tbeha over couscous.  Avoid over mixing or digging deep into the stew to prevent breaking apart the chicken and making "chop suey" out of the vegetables.


  1. Looks fabulous! What did you mean for this ingredient: 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves

    Also, can you make this exact same recipe with beef? What kind would you recommend?

    1. Hey thank you! If you look at the photo of the spices below the ingredients I used 1/2 teaspoon of whole cloves that were then grinded with the other spices.

      As far as beef, it's a bit different because you need to brown the meat first with the onions and then boil it for about an hour prior to adding the other vegetables. I plan to post a step by step beef tbeha recipe in the future!

  2. Thank you! Would be fantastic to have the beef version. Love your blog.

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