Your Weekly Feast: Menu for a Bulgarian-style Shabbat Dinner

For Jews, a large, festive meal isn’t a once-a-year affair like Thanksgiving, but rather a weekly routine. This menu will let you pull together a well-thought-out Friday night dinner with Eastern and Western influences in one afternoon.

Vered Guttman
Vered Guttman
Eggplant, zucchini and tomato stew with beef (ghivech).
Eggplant, zucchini and tomato stew with beef (ghivech).Credit: by Vered Guttman
Vered Guttman
Vered Guttman

By now, if you live in America, you are most likely deep into collecting and choosing recipes for Thanksgiving. The main course is, well, turkey, but you want some exciting new sides. You chose a reasonable Pinot Noir. You have your pumpkin-shaped soup bowls ready and the turkey-decorated tablecloth cleaned. By now you should have a good number of RSVPs and you may have even chosen your outfit (something in scarlet and comfortable shoes so you can run back and forth to the kitchen all night). Everything to make this dinner the most perfect night of the year.

But there’s another meal that could benefit from such detailed attention, without the stress that goes into a once-a-year occasion. Shabbat dinner comes every week and with carefully chosen easy-yet-delicious recipes, it’s easy to make it into a festive tradition, which draws its power its comforting repetition. We all know by now the importance of family meals, and having a festive meal once a week is a genius Jewish invention. And yes, I’m not revealing anything new here.

So in this new series, I will provide full Shabbat dinner menus. The meals will include step-by-step instructions to prepare in one afternoon.

The first is a Bulgarian Shabbat dinner menu. Jews have lived in Bulgaria in small numbers since the 2nd century AD, but these communities of Romagnotes and Ashkenazi Jews were largely overwhelmed by Sephardi Jews who arrived to Bulgaria with the blessing of Turkish sultan after their expulsion from Spain in 1492.

And so the Jewish Bulgarian cuisine, as well as the Bulgarian cuisine in general, is influenced greatly by the Ottoman Empire that ruled the country for five centuries, as well as by some Ashkenazi and Russian traditions. Grilled meat, stuffed vegetables, burek and other Turkish style pastries, eggplant and red pepper salads with dominant garlic seasoning are all part of this Balkan cuisine. It has strong similarities to Romanian Jewish cuisine and today both are considered part of the Sephardi cuisine in Israel.


Celery root and carrot salad
Roasted pepper salad
Ikra (carp roe salad)

Main course
Eggplant, zucchini and tomato stew with beef (ghivech)
(vegan alternative: cook ghivech without the beef)
Plain rice or couscous

Butternut squash and walnut pastry (tikvenik)

Step-by-step instructions

1. You can prepare the salads up to 3 days ahead and let them rest in the fridge to develop flavor. Preparation time for all salads together shouldn’t be more than 30 minutes.
2. Up to 3 days ahead: Cook beef for the ghivech - put cubes of beef in a pot, cover with water, add 2 bay leaves and a few peppercorns, bring to boil, skim foam, cover and cook for 1 1/2 - 2 hours until tender. Refrigerate with liquid.
3. On Friday afternoon start with preparing the ghivech. While ghivech is cooking, make plain rice and the dessert. Take salads out the fridge an hour before serving so they get to room temperature.
4. You can keep ghivech and rice warm on a Shabbat plate or covered in the oven on the lowest settings.


Celery root and carrot salad

A classic Sephardi dish from the Balkans.

Serves 6

3 celery roots
3 carrots
2 cups water
1/3 cup lemon juice (from 3 lemons)
1/3 cup corn or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt

1. Peel celery root and cut to 1/4 inch slices. Peel and slice carrots into 1/4 inch rounds.
2. Bring the rest of the ingredients to boil in a medium pot over medium-high heat, add celery root and carrot, bring back to boil, reduce heat to low for gentle simmer, cover and cook for about 20 minutes, until vegetables are just fork tender.
3. Transfer to a sealed container with some of the liquid and keep in the fridge for up to 4 days. Serve at room temperature.

Roasted pepper salad

Garlic plays a major role. We’re all about shortcuts here, so jarred roasted peppers come in handy.

Serves 6

1 jar (16 oz.) roasted peppers
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 minced garlic cloves
1 teaspoon sugar
Kosher salt to taste

Drain liquid from jar and pat dry peppers with paper towels. Remove seeds and slice peppers to thin stripes. Put in a medium bowl, mix with the rest of the ingredients and refrigerate until ready to eat, up to a week.

Ikra (carp roe salad)

Carp tarama is available at many Middle Eastern, kosher and European markets as well as Whole Foods. Serve the ikra over thick slices of challah and top with chopped red onion.

Yields 1.5 cups

Ikra (carp roe salad).Credit: Vered Guttman

1 1/2 oz. Italian ciabatta bread or challah, 2 days old
6 tablespoons + 4 teaspoons cured carp roe (tarama), divided
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup corn oil
3-4 tablespoons sparkling water
To serve:
Challah or crackers
Chopped red onion

1. Remove the crust from the bread, soak the bread in cold water and squeeze well.
2. Put the bread, 6 tablespoons tarama and lemon juice in a food processor and let run for 1-2 minutes.
3. With the food processor running, very slowly add the oil to get a very thin consistency. Add sparkling water to get a lighter consistency and turn the food processor off.
4. Transfer the dip to a large bowl and gently mix in the extra 4 teaspoons of tarama. Serve over challah, sprinkled with red onion or with crackers. Keep in the fridge.

Eggplant, zucchini and tomato stew with beef (ghivech)

This flexible recipe with take any fall vegetable you like, so don’t hesitate to improvise. For a simple vegan version of this recipe, just omit the beef. It will still be super delicious.

Serves 6

1 1/2 lb. beef chuck in 2-inch cubes
2 bay leaves
1 eggplant
Kosher salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Freshly ground black pepper

1 red peppers, seeded and sliced
1/2 butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2 inch cubes
4 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
3 zucchini, cut into 1/2” sections
4 garlic cloves, sliced
1 can peeled tomatoes, 28 oz., drained

1. Up to 4 days before serving, put beef with boiling water and bay leaves in a medium pot, bring to boil over medium-high heat, skim foam, reduce heat to low, cover pot and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until very tender. Let beef cool down and transfer with the liquid to the fridge.
2. Peel eggplant in stripes. Slice into 1 inch slices and cut each slice to 4. Put in a colander and salt generously. Let stand for half an hour, wash with cold water.
3. Put a large, heavy bottom pot over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and the onion and sauté until the onion is transparent. Push onions to the sides of pan, add tomato paste to the center and cook without stirring for a couple of minutes to get a nice aroma. Add cooked beef to pot together with 1 tablespoon salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper and stir. Now add the rest of the ingredients to the pot, stir gently, bring to boil, cover and lower heat to medium-low to keep low simmer. The vegetables will release their juices slowly. Cook for 45 minutes, shaking pot occasionally, then remove lid and cook on low simmer for another 30 minutes, to reduce liquid. Adjust seasoning and remove from heat.
4. Serve warm over rice or couscous.

Butternut squash and walnut pastry (tikvenik)

This mini-strudel pastry is a Bulgarian Christmas delight, but works really well in this autumn menu.

This dessert is vegan and parve. Serves 6.

12 phyllo sheets, 13” x 8”, thawed in fridge overnight
1 lb. butternut squash, peeled and cut to 1” cube
1 cup (4 oz.) chopped walnuts, preferably toasted
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup walnut or vegetable oil
Powdered sugar for dusting

1. An hour before you start cooking, take phyllo out of the fridge and leave at room temperature.
2. Fill a medium pot with 2 inches of water and bring to boil over medium-high heat. Put a col-ander on top of pot, arrange butternut squash in the colander and steam for about 20 minutes until fork tender. Alternatively, you can boil the squash until just fork tender. Transfer to a medium bowl, mash with a fork and set aside to cool.
3. Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Put parchment paper on a large baking sheet.
4. Mix walnuts, sugar and cinnamon into the mashed squash. Prepare a glass with the oil and a pastry brush. Put all phyllo sheets on the side and cover with one dry towel and a lightly wet towel on top to keep phyllo from drying out.

Tikvenik making, step 1.Credit: Vered Guttman

5. Arrange one phyllo sheet on a working surface, narrow side toward you and lightly brush with oil, cover with another sheet of phyllo.

Tikvenik making, step 2.Credit: Vered Guttman

6. Spread a sixth of the butternut squash mixture all over the phyllo, leaving 2 inches border on sides and top.

Tikvenik making, step 3.Credit: Vered Guttman

7. Fold 2 inches of the sides in and start rolling the phyllo, not too tight, from bottom to top to get a mini strudel. Transfer to baking sheet. continue with the rest of the phyllo.

Tikvenik making, step 4.Credit: Vered Guttman

8. Brush strudels with oil and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown.
9. Let cool, then dust with powdered sugar. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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