Shabbat overnight stews in their vast variety existed for centuries throughout the Jewish diaspora, and all for one reason - to provide a solution for the ancient Jewish desire to feast on a hot meal on Shabbat, when the kashrut laws forbid any cooking. Preparing a dish in advance and cooking it overnight, whether in a community oven, a hot plate or a modern range, solved the problem.
But the results turned out to be better than people were bargaining for. As anyone who has ever made cholent or hamin knows, a night in the oven makes any stew caramelized with its own sugars, brown and tender in a way that cannot be reproduced in any other way.
Our grandparents knew that. And Israelis know that, as cholent, hamin, tbeet, d’feena and jachnoon are still very popular all over this heat-stricken Levantine country. If Israelis can keep this beautiful, delicious tradition in their too-hot-for-cholent country, then American Jews can, too.
Not to mention that the work-to-payoff ratio for these overnight stews is far better than that of other recipe you’ll ever make. And waking up Saturday morning to the wonderful smell of stew that fills the house is unbeatable.
Here’s a list of enough Shabbat overnight stews to warm up your house, fill it with Jewish spirit and carry you through spring.
Start with Jerusalem hamin, a Sephardi-Ashkenazi combination that’s similar to the classic cholent of white beans, potato and marrow bones, all brown, caramelized and peppery, topped with day-old challah patties to seal in all the moisture. You can add to the pot hard boiled eggs, known as haminados, to get a creamy yolk and a taste like no other egg you’ve ever tried before.
Next to the large hamin pot you can always add a small one with caramelized Jerusalem kugel (yes, most dished are caramelized after a night in the oven) to serve for breakfast.
After you’ve mastered the classic Shabbat dish, it’s time to explore Shabbat stews from around the Jewish world. The Iraqi tbeet is a stew of rice-stuffed chicken that's covered in more rice. A night in the oven makes a specially tender chicken with edible bones. As fat is always necessary for keeping any overnight stew from drying up, the ideal chicken for this stew would be an old, fat one or a “broiler” chicken from the supermarket.
The Tunisian/Libyan hareesa is a North African version of what is considered to be the original Shabbat overnight stew, the Sephardi/Spanish hareesa, a simple stew of meat and wheat. This version includes chicken, eggs with farina and meat patties.
Yemenite Jews have two types of pastries that are baked overnight for Shabbat. Jachnoon is a rolled, lightly sweet pastry that gets a deep golden-brown hue after a night in the oven. It is then served with a spicy tomato salsa for balance. The second is kubaneh, a tall, slightly sour yeast bread that has made a comeback in Israeli restaurants lately, including Timna in New York.
The easiest of these stews must be hamin macaroni, an Israeli Sephardi invention made with chicken and macaroni and not much more. The long cooking time transforms these two simple, everyday ingredients into something completely new. These are guaranteed to be some of the best macaroni you’ll ever try.
Though the classic cholent may include meat and marrow bones, these ingredients are not essential to the stew. For a vegetarian version, simply omit the meat from the recipes, but consider adding a bit more fat, plus spices or dried mushrooms for flavor. Another great option is this vegan cholent, made with chickpea and pinto beans, potatoes, chestnuts and optional stuffed Swiss chard.
Another modern variation, and one of my favorites, is a chestnut and farro hamin made with marrow bones (again, skip the bones for a vegan stew, and add more olive oil).
There’s nothing more comforting in these restless times.
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