Hamin: A Sephardic Sabbath Stew

Across the Sephardic recipes found in the AJHS cookbook collection, each bowl of slow-cooked stew is unique.

I got my start learning about Jewish cuisine as an educator at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in Manhattan. One of my favorite roles was portraying a Sephardic Jewish immigrant named Victoria Confino. In costume and character, I’d invite “families” of visitors into my apartment for lessons on how to adapt to America. But I also loved to talk about Sephardic foodways, especially Hamin.

Hamin is the Sephardic equivalent of Cholent, a slow-cooked stew prepared on Friday night to be eaten on Saturday after temple. I always loved describing the spices that would go into the pot of beans and meat, along with tomatoes and huevos haminados, eggs in their shell that would cook low and slow directly in the stew. Jewish food is often associated with Ashkenazi cuisine, especially in New York City. I always wanted to remind visitors that there are many vastly different people and cuisines that make up Jewish culture.

I was excited to learn that the American Jewish Historical Society had a substantial collection of Sephardic cookbooks in their collection, both old and new, including one of my favorites: Cooking the Sephardic Way, a community cookbook published in 1971 by the Sephardic Sisterhood Temple Tifereth Israel in Los Angeles. The biggest wave of Sephardic immigrants came to America in the 1910s, following war in the Ottoman Empire that would ultimately cede parts of Turkey to Greece. So, a vintage cookbook like this one collected recipes from women who had often come to America as teenagers, and now were the matriarchs of generations of Sephardic-American families.

What I love most about Cooking the Sephardic Way is that it doesn’t just offer up traditional recipes (although often adapted with American convenience food), it also teaches about Sephardic life.  According to Sephardic Los Angeles, the collection of community recipes was intended for  “the American born generation Sephardi” as well as “non-Sephardi who conceives of Sephardic food as exotic and unique.”  Sephardic Cookery offers an explanation of the hospitality of La Trave de Dulce, a fancy platter of treats like rose jam and candied orange peel,  saying “Sephardic hospitality has always been warm, gracious and very sweet.”  The book also emphasized the importance of the “three b’s” for breakfast: bourekas, boyos and bulemas; and the Sephardic preference for seasoning with lemon, tomato, and parsley as part of their Spanish heritage. Ultimately, the book’s editors hoped to preserve recipes – often taught in the kitchen directly from mother to daughter – from getting lost.

I decided I wanted to make a Hamin from Sephardic Cookery, a warming treat for the depths of winter. But oddly, when I read through the book, I couldn’t find any recipes called “Hamin.” I checked the AJHS’s other vintage Sephardic cookbook holdings, and still there was no Hamin. Only in modern Jewish cookbooks could I find the Sabbath dish. And then it occurred to me: there was no one recipe for Hamin. Each bowl of slow-cooked stew was unique to the family, perhaps changing week to week based on a bevy of recipes inside the cook’s head or responding to what ingredients were available. Contemporary Sephardic cookbooks emphasize some of the differences; in Einat Admony’s cookbook Balaboosta, they use chickpeas and pinto beans as well as barley and the stew is sweetened with prunes and dried apricots. The Sephardic Kitchen by Robert Sternberg offers a Salonika-style Hamin with marrow bones, rice and lots of paprika and serves it with pickled vegetables. And The Book of Jewish Food  by Claudia Roden offers an Italian version of the dish that adds nutmeg!

After looking over the modern recipes, I returned to Sephardic Cookery, and a recipe I had missed before suddenly popped out at me: Sopa de Avas, bean soup. The cookbook’s editors even added: “In Kastoria and Salonika, beans were generally served on Friday night. A favorite in many homes, it was a convenient dish to serve again on the following day (Shabbat) when no cooking was done.” I found my Hamin!

This recipe is very simple, but it makes the perfect winter comfort stew. Although there’s not a lot of seasoning, the Hamin is incredibly rich, but balanced by the acid from the tomatoes.  You can certainly make this dish your own, by adding the chickpeas, paprika or nutmeg other cookbook authors suggest. I would definitely recommend adding eggs in their shell; the results will surprise you!

To make this recipe, I used a slow cooker – that’s what it’s for! The Crock Pot was invented in the 1930s by Irving Nachumsohn, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, for the purpose of simply and safely cooking Shabbat stews. Just add all of the ingredients on Friday night, set it on low for 12 hours, and the next day you will have a beautiful stew.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sarah Lohman is a culinary historian and author of Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine published by Simon & Schuster.  Her work has been featrued in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, All Things Considered, CNN, Gimlet Media, and NHK Japan. She appeared in two seasons of The Cooking Channel's Food: Fact or Fiction and was a video producer for New York Magazine's food blog, Grub Street.  She performs across the country giving food history lectures and cooking classes with Masters of Social Gastronomy as well as independently. Her next book Endangered Eating: Exploring America's Vanishing Cusine is set to release Jan 2023. For more information visit SarahLohman.com.

 

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