Iraqi Tbit recipe

A Tale of Love and T’bit

T’bit is the Iraqi/Babylonian version of cholent, a wonderful slow cooked chicken and rice dish.


There is nothing quite like watching a romance blossom. Last February, our friend Esther flew to Argentina with her daughter Miriam for the wedding of Miriam’s best friend, Raquel. Over the weeklong festivities, the groom’s close friend Oren spotted sweet Miriam and a long-distance romance ensued. 

Soon enough, Esther and Yosi flew to the East Coast to meet the parents Beth and Yisroel. Then there was the Instagram-worthy proposal in the Hollywood Hills. The fun-filled engagement party. The bridal shower.

Finally, it was time to fly across the country for the big day. The wedding would be in Owings Mills, a suburb of Baltimore. On Wednesday afternoon, Sharon and I headed up to Esther’s rooftop suite, where we helped friend Martine and Aunt Ronit set up a beautiful buffet table with cheeses and crackers, veggies and dips, fruits, dried fruits and nuts. There were homemade ma’amul (traditional Syrian nut and date-filled semolina cookies), biscochos and brightly colored marzipan that I schlepped from Los Angeles. It was so emotional to hear the blessings of the two mothers for the bride, to witness the bride receiving silver candlesticks from the groom’s mother and to see her receive a lustrous strand of pearls from her abuela Miriam. It was emotional to see generations of Yosi and Esther’s family—aunts and cousins and little cousins gather to shower Miriam with love at this Bano de Novia. 

The next day, we all dressed in our finest and came down the elevator to a sea of people in the reception area. 

This is a mixed marriage. Oren’s family is Ashkenazi. Miriam comes from a Turkish/Syrian/Iraqi heritage. This wedding brought together the best of both worlds—in the food, in the music, in the traditions.

The groom and male guests sat at a tisch (table in Yiddish), signing the ketubah and singing. The bride sat on a stage surrounded by the two moms and the grandmothers and her many bridesmaids, awaiting the bedeken. Then Oren was accompanied by all his friends with loud singing and much happiness. The two fathers blessed the bride. Then the moment that guarantees that all the women will cry—Oren whispers to Miriam and places the veil over her face, making sure that she is his bride. It’s a reminder of when Laban tricked Jacob into marrying Leah by masking her face with a veil.

After the joyful procession of the groom and his parents, the bridesmaids and groomsmen, the bride made her grand entrance with Yosi and Esther. They all stood under the chuppah and the music stopped. All 300 guests waited patiently, not quite knowing what to expect. An Israeli flag was unfolded in front of the bride and groom and their parents, as a prayer was offered for the safety of the Israel Defense Forces and the release of our captives. It brought tears to our eyes, a solemn reminder that even in this time of joy, our brave soldiers are risking their lives to defend our country and our brethren are held hostage in the tunnels of Gaza. 

After the chuppah, the party began and it kind of never stopped. When I looked around the room, every single chair was empty. Everybody, and I mean everybody, was on the dance floor. The ru’ach (spirited air) was palpable. Miriam and Oren truly were the king and queen. Forget the chair dance. That was sweet. This couple had it going on. At one point, they were standing on a table carried by Oren’s very strong friends. Even the waiters were taking photos!

Everyone truly wanted to celebrate this special couple. 

The best part of this destination wedding is that the festivities continued into Shabbat. It was like a Sephardic Educational Center reunion, which was very fitting because Yosi and Esther met at an SEC convention and were engaged at an SEC convention in nearby Washington DC. So many of the friends that we had made in the ’90s were gathered in Baltimore. Even more inspiring was seeing the friendships continue among the young adult children of our SEC friends. 

In Esther’s big-hearted fashion, she and Yosi hosted over 200 guests for dinner and lunch. We had so much fun eating, drinking lots of wine, reminiscing and singing.


A few weeks before the wedding I was in Israel, so Esther called Rachel to ask about the Sephardic Spice Girl T’bit recipe. Esther needn’t have bothered because she has been an expert t’bit maker since her marriage to Yosi. 

While Esther has been a close friend of Rachel and me for 30 years, I have known Yosi for even longer. His father Yehezkel and my grandmother Nana Aziza were cousins and came from the little village of Azair, the burial place of Ezra Ha’Sofer (the Scribe) in the south of Iraq. Aba Naji, my grandfather who hailed from Baghdad, was Yehezkel’s Mu’allam (teacher). Our families stayed close in Israel and then in Los Angeles. I will never forget my grandparents distress when Yosi’s beloved mother passed away suddenly. My mother said that she remembered Yehezkel and Esther as the most romantic couple she had ever known. 

T’bit is the Iraqi/Babylonian version of cholent, a wonderful slow cooked chicken and rice dish. Traditionally, Iraqi women would make “hashwa” whereby they would skin a whole chicken and stuff it with rice. As a little girl, I remember sitting with my grandmother on Friday mornings as she would make her t’bit. My job was to thread the needle, so that she could sew the chicken closed after stuffing it. I have made life simpler by forgoing this step in my recipe. It still tastes every bit as good. All that overnight cooking results in melt in your mouth flavorful goodness. Wonderfully soft, smoky chicken and caramelized rice replete with the warmth of cinnamon and cardamom. It’s the perfect dish for a large crowd or an intimate Shabbat luncheon. 

It was fitting that for this Shabbat luncheon, there was gefilte fish served alongside Moroccan salmon and cholent served alongside the t’bit. We wish Oren and Miriam a lifetime of happiness and Jewish unity. 


Iraqi Tbit recipe

Avocado oil

1 chicken, washed and patted dry

3 cups basmati, jasmine or brown rice

2 onions, finely diced

6 cloves garlic, finely chopped 

3 large tomatoes, chopped 

2 tablespoons tomato paste

10 pods cardamom, crushed

2 teaspoons chicken consommé powder

2 teaspoons sweet paprika

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon cinnamon 

1 teaspoon ginger powder

Salt and pepper 

4 cups water

Warm avocado oil in a large ovenproof pot over medium heat. Sauté onions until they are translucent. 

Add garlic and chopped tomatoes and continue sautéing for 3-5 minutes. 

Add tomato paste, cardamom, consommé powder, paprika, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, salt & pepper. Stir well and sauté for 3 minutes. 

Add the chicken to the pot with the breast side up & sauté for 5-7 minutes. Flip the chicken and sauté for 5 minutes, until the chicken is golden on the outside and juices are running out. 

Cover with 4 cups of water and let simmer for 20-25 minutes. 

Add the rice and stir well. 

Cover the pot and reduce heat to low and allow to simmer until all the water has been absorbed. 

Preheat the oven to 350°F and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.

Lower heat to 225°F and bake for at least 4 to 6 hours or overnights.

If you’d like to make traditional brown eggs to serve with the meal, cover the chicken and rice with parchment paper, then arrange eggs in the pot and cook.

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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