Schenna (A Morroccan Sabbath Stew)

I am embedded with memories of my Jewish French Moroccan childhood, where we would go over to our grandmother's house on Saturdays, and she would prepare a well loved family favourite, that we knew as... a Moroccan word, pronounced "Shcrayna" (Think cacaphonic). That comes out spelled "Schenna" (aka "Skhina"). Which means "hot" in Arabic. The dish is also known by some under the name "Hamin"/"Hamim"/"Chamim". It is probably most widely known as "Dafina". "Dafina" means "covered", in reference to the pot it is cooked in. It is a traditional dish made by Moroccan Jews. Dafina (or "Schenna") is cooked over a very slow fire, taking some 18 hours to complete cooking. You might have guessed by now, this entry is neither recipeless nor quick. So it can be considered a labour of love, and set apart from the others here as "special". But then, even in its own context, it was always considered a special meal. The Moroccan Jews serve it on "shabbos" (their day of sabbath), to observe (their version of) the Jewish "cholent".

At its heart, Dafina can be considered a type of beef stew. It always contained eggs, beef, chick peas, potatoes, rice or wheat (sometimes my grandmother would include rice in the dish, sometimes wheat. Sometimes both. I prefer both. Because if you're going to go to all this trouble....). It never contained meatloaf, dates or bulghur, and I don't recall that it contained garlic or carrots either. The whites of the whole eggs, when cooked this way and this long, become brown, with an almost nutty flavour. I guarantee that if you've never had Dafina, you've never tasted eggs like this! The rice or wheat becomes soft, yet intact and flavourful. Like no rice you've had elsewhere. Even the potatoes take on a dark brown colour, and a sublime flavour, not acheivable by other means. They become, like everything else about this dish, unique. The dish would, as I recall, include marrow bones from the beef. They are an important addition to flavour the juice, which should be generous.

Dafina is traditionally a family meal. But I think it makes a great choice for a party. Especially a year-end seasonal party. My grandmother would always cooked it in a black enameled roaster with white specks. This is the ideal vessel for this type of meal. But adapting, I don't see why it could not be cooked in a large (preferably oval) dutch oven. Actually, in a pinch, it could even be cooked on the stovetop. (But I don't expect the results to be as good).



1 1/4 cups dried garbanzo beans
3 T olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, chopped in thick pieces
1 head of garlic, separated into cloves and peeled (optional)
1 lb beef bones with marrow (optional, but is important for flavor)
3 lbs beef chuck roast
12 potatoes, peeled
1 to 6 sweet potatoes, peeled
3 to 4 carrots, thickly sliced (optional)
6 eggs, kept in their shell
4 to 6 dates, pitted (optional)


1 t paprika
1 t cumin
1/2 t cinnamon
2 t salt (preferably kosher)
2 t pepper (or to taste)

Grain Pouch

1 cup uncooked rice or wheat berries or bulghur wheat (or two batches of different grains!)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 t cinnamon
1 t nutmeg
1/2 t salt
1/2 t black pepper

Kouclas bi Khobz (Moroccan Bread Dumpling) (Optional)

1 c. Bread crumbs
1 lrg Yellow onion, minced (about 3/4 c.)
3 lrg Large eggs
1/4 c. Minced fresh parsley
2 Tbsp. All-purpose flour
Salt to taste

Kouclas bi Ruz Moroccan Rice Dumpling (Optional)

1 cup rice
4 ounces ground lamb or beef
1/2 cup ground walnuts
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground mace
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
About 1/2 teaspoon salt
Ground black pepper to taste


Soak chickpeas (or wheat berries, unless they are the pre-soaked variety) overnight, or early in the morning of the day you will be making the dafina, then drain.  Turn your oven on to about 250F. Take out your enameled roaster pan, or if not available, your largest pot (preferably raw or enamelled cast iron dutch oven) with a tight fitting lid, which can hold all the ingredients and fit into your oven (should be about 9 quarts). n.b. You'll be placing ingredients in the pot, but unless you are sauteeing, do not mix the ingredients for dafina. In the pot, add the oil, then the chickpeas, then the onions (and the optional garlic, if using). (Optional: Before adding to the stew pot, some prefer sauteeing the onion and/or garlic beforehand. This can be done in the roasting pan or another pan, at a med.-low heat, with olive oil, for about 15 minutes until they are softened). Then follow with the meat. (Optional: Some prefer browning the meat beforehand. This can be done in the roasting pan or another pan, at a med.-low heat, with olive oil, until all sides are browned).

Next, place in the whole potatoes and sweet potato, and spices. Finally, add the meat bones. (Optional: If you are using beef bones, you can get a deeper flavour by rubbing them with olive oil, and roasting them in a roasting pan in a 400F oven for 45 minutes, or until dark brown). Then the eggs. (Nestle the whole eggs in shell, in between the bones or meat, to protect them from breakage). Pour in enough water to barely cover all the ingredients. (Optional: At this point, some people will boil the stew before putting it in the oven. The method is to bring the roasting pan or dutch oven or pot to the boiling point on the stovetop, cover, reduce heat to med.-low, simmer for 1 hour; occasionally skimming the foam. Then proceed to next instructions).

Grain Pouch

In a large bowl, mix the rice with the beaten egg, add spices and gently mix. Wrap it in cheescloth, and add it in the pot in the centre of the stew. (n.b. The idea here is that the grains should cook in the stew, but be kept separate from the rest of the ingredients. My grandmother always wrapped the rice or wheat in aluminum foil, with holes poked into it, and placed that in the stew).

Kouclas bi Khobz / Kouclas bi Ruz

Some families add this bread dumpling or rice/meat dumpling to the dafina stew. Ours never did, so I can't vouch for it. This is entirely optional, and if you wish to try this variation, the instructions are included: Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl (for either the bread version or rice/meat version). If you are making the rice/beef version, knead it a little bit for consistency. Then loosely wrap the "kouclas" mixture in a piece of cheesecloth and tie securely. Place in centre of pot.


Place the roaster, dutch oven or pot in the oven. Let it simmer overnight, and until ready to serve for lunch. (At least 12 to 18 hrs cooking time; or 20 hours @ 225F). The water used to cover the stew will eventually become a thick sauce.


Remove the wheat, then the eggs and set aside so they can cool. Then the bones (if serving them, place them on a plate so the marrow stays inside). Then the meat, then potatoes and onions, and lastly the beans. Place a bit of each ingredient in a serving bowl or plate, and pour the sauce over. Or plate the entire stew, with the sauce drained and served in a separate bowl, and allow diners to pick the portions they want. (Traditionally, the major ingredients of schenna (vegetables, meat, rice, etc) are served in the centre of the table in separate bowls. But that was never our tradition, from what I recall).


Any variations would run counter to tradition and authenticity of the dish; at least in my family. But I'm not much for tradition, so... if you don't like beef and want to substitute something else, you can use chicken. It just won't be the same dish.

Yield: 5 - 8


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