Over the years I’ve tasted many variations of tcholent (tchulent if you are of chassidische background), some tasted superb even if they were sometimes exotic. Baroness Tapuzina – a food blog I read voraciously – offers a Sephardic variation on the theme. Like Food Bridge, this one also offers a small glimpse into the life and personality of its author.
[All photos in this post are the property of Baroness Tapuzina.]
Israeli Hamin, North African Shahina and Dafina, Iraqi Tabit, Yemenite Taris, Hungarian Solet, Kurdish Matfunia, Ladino Haminado, German Shalet and Eastern European Cholent or Chulent are all words for a Shabbat slow-cooked meal that has been made since at least the 12th century and possibly as far back as ancient Egypt in many households except my own. Whatever you choose to call it, hamin originates from the ban on lighting a fire or cooking during Shabbat, since these are considered to be forbidden forms of work. However, it’s permitted to start something cooking before Shabbat starts, so provided the heat is kept low enough, it’s possible to start cooking the hamin on Friday afternoon and have a nice tender slow-cooked meal for lunch on Saturday.
I had never heard of this dish until I moved to Israel. I remember my grandmother telling me how she and my great-grandmother would make challot at home and take them to the village baker to bake on Friday morning, but she never mentioned making this stew and my great-grandmother, who died when I was 19 years old, never made it for Shabbat, so I have to assume that this dish was as unfamiliar to my family as was gefilte fish.
Growing up in the Deep South, baked beans, pinto beans, and blackeyed peas were all readily available, but not a very popular staple in my house. My mother loved all of these, but I always thought they were disgusting. So when I saw cholent for the first time, it reminded me of refried beans or baked beans, two dishes that I really disliked. I tried it once at the house of one of my relatives in Israel, but I couldn’t bring myself to eat it again. However, one day I was discussing my dislike of cholent with Mimi of Israeli Kitchen and she told me that there are many different types of cholent, some without beans, that I should try.
I started doing some research and found that there are Sephardic versions that use chickpeas, bulgar, rice, and even couscous instead of the European versions that use white beans (also called navy beans) or barley, like the ones used in cassoulet. The Ashkenazi ones used beef, goose, and duck while the Sephardic ones used beef, lamb and chicken. This dish is supposed to be a complete main course in one pot, so it also can contain stuffed goose necks, chicken necks or stomach. If you are Ashkenazi the stuffing is likely to be some variation of flour, bread crumbs, chicken, goose or duck fat and potatoes; if you are Sephardi, it is more likely to be minced meat and rice flavored with spices such as cinnamon, cardamon and allspice.
The hamin may also may contain dumplings. Kurdish Jews make a cracked wheat and semolina dumpling that is stuffed with minced beef or lamb; Moroccan Jews serve a large fragrant dumpling made with a mixture of ground nuts, minced lamb, mince beef and bread crumbs, flavoured with sugar, black pepper, mace, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg.
For my virgin hamin, I found an interesting recipe from the master chef of cholent, Sherry Ansky, a food writer who is passionate about this slow-cooked dish, so much so, that she devoted an entire book to the subject, punctuated by stories from her own life about the role different types of hamin and cholent had played for her. I chose to make a root vegetable hamin with asado or short ribs and goose drumsticks. This recipe does not contain the dreaded bean nor the much loved slowed eggs that I also loathe. I started by browning the meat and the vegetables in a large frying pan and then did the next stage of cooking in a large soup pot, and only after that moved all the ingredients to a very large clay pot, but if you have a large enough Dutch oven or Pojke, then you can just do the whole job in that one pot. You should cook this for about 20 hours, including the one hour it cooks on the stove top.
Since I never prepare a heavy Shabbat lunch, I decided to make this Thursday night and serve it for Shabbat dinner. It is a bit unconventional, but it worked for us. This hamin is delicious and I have been converted. I am going to wait a few weeks, but I would like to try another hamin. I see an Iraqi Tabit in our future or maybe one with pitim or maybe one with pasta……
Don’t plan any activities after lunch because you will probably be too heavy and bloated to even move from the table.
Printable recipe here
Root Vegetable Hamin made in a Clay Pot
Adapted from a recipe in Hamin by Sherry Ansky
2 kilos (4lbs) veal or lamb osso buco (I used short ribs)
1 kilo goose drumsticks
10 whole shallots, peeled
2 heads of garlic, unpeeled, cut in half
3 to 4 celery stalks, chopped
2 celery roots
2 parsley roots
4 to 6 small turnips
1/2 (1lb) kilo Jerusalem artichokes
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1/2 to 1 teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon sweet Hungarian paprika
2 -3 bay leaves
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2-3 fresh sage leaves
2 sprigs rosemary
3 medium tomatoes chopped or 250g crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
6 to 7 potatoes, peeled and cut in half
2-3 small sweet potatoes (optional, instead of some of the potatoes), peeled and cut into thick slices
Water to cover
Peel and cut the turnips, celery root, parsley root and Jerusalem artichokes into large cubes. Place the root vegetables and celery in a bowl and set aside.
Place 1 tablespoon of oil in a large Dutch oven on medium-high heat. Brown the meat and goose drumsticks, in batches, on all sides, and set aside in a bowl.
Add 2-3 more tablespoons of oil, reduce the heat to medium and saute the whole shallots for 3-4 minutes. Add all of the root vegetables except for the potatoes. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon to ensure that the vegetables do not stick to the bottom of the pot. Add the paprika, cayenne, black peppercorns, chopped tomatoes and tomato paste and stir a little more.
Then return all of the meat to the pot and stir everything together. Pour on enough boiling water to just cover all of the ingredients and add the thyme, bay leaf, sage, and rosemary. Reduce the temperature to a simmer and cook for one hour. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat the oven to 90-100C (195 – 212F).
Add the potatoes and garlic, add a little more salt to taste, cover the pot tightly and put it in the oven until lunchtime the following day.
Sounds great! I’ll have to try it this coming Shabbos, though I’ll use a slow cooker or crockpot (on low heat) rather than the oven. When I make my own recipe I use flanken meat, pastrami, kishka and add a bar of Yemenite jachnun to the beans (which I soak in water for, at least, 8 hours), Vidalia onions, potatoes, garlic and tomato sauce with lots of spices.