November 21, 2008 - 11:14 AM by · 4 Comments
Filed under: Food 

Ashkenazi cholentNow that the winter months are upon us once again, it’s time to bust out the old crock pot. The heavy stew that we call hamin or cholent might not have been so appropriate during the heat of the summer, when the manner in which it sits in the stomach can become cumbersome (although many argue that it should be served 52 Saturdays a year), but now pretty much all of us can agree to dig in.

It’s the definitive savory, hot, dense pan-Jewish comfort food, and it always has been. When you are forbidden by your Deity for thousands of years to light a fire or cook on Shabbat morning, loading up a pot with savory goodness on Friday afternoon and praying for a yummy mush to come off the fire 30 or so hours later made a lot of sense. Even the goyim agree that slow-cooked stews are the way to go.

In my home, when late February rolls around and we start to get a little less excited about the standard Ashkenaz combination of barley, beans, potatoes, onions, garlic, cubed beef and our off-the-record blend of seasonings, we sometimes opt for alternate recipes, like pseudo-East Asian cholent (heavy on the shitake mushrooms, green beans, sesame oil and soy sauce) or pseudo-Hindu cholent (coconut milk, whole cinnamon sticks, many sweet potatoes and no meat).

Others keep cholent new by adding secret ingredients, such as lamb fat (gives the whole thing a glossy coating of sinful flavor), whole heads of garlic (fun to peel and spread on bread), beer, hot dogs and the like. There are many recipe variations out there.

Now Netanya’s Blue Bay Hotel is gearing up for its first annual Hamin Festival, a celebration of the onset of cholent season. With festivals – especially those built around consumerist themes – popping up across the land at an alarming clip, why shouldn’t they? From 11 a.m. through 2 p.m. on each Saturday in December and January, Blue Bay is set to offer a cornicopia of hamin options, including traditional recipes from the Ashkenazi shtetl, Persia, Morocco and even Libya (they put beets in it!).

There will even be traditional ethnic musical performances (bouzouki, oud and wind instruments abound) to enhance the flavors, and when the weather permits, guests will be invited to sit outdoors, facing the sea. Admission costs NIS 59 for adults (children pay slightly less, dessert costs slightly more), and there are takeout options as well.

In the Simpsons episode “Homerpalooza,” Homer goes on a festival tour thanks to his formidable stomach. If he thinks getting shot in the belly with a cannon makes for a difficult yet exhilarating gastronomical festival experience, he should try visiting the Blue Bay Hotel over nine upcoming Saturdays in a row.

In praise of dry toast

October 19, 2008 - 2:55 PM by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Food, General, History and Culture, Immigrant Moments, Israeliness, Life 

cholent-s.jpg There’s nothing quite as daunting for immigrants to Israel from North America as going to the home of the Israeli parents of your daughter’s significant other.

Sure, after 23 years here, I feel as Israeli as the next Dudu, but there’s something about those natives born here from ethnic origins like – Iraq for instance – that’s just sooo Israeli, that I couldn’t even begin to approach it.

We’d already met Y’s parents on a couple occasions, once when we hosted them for a Yom Ha’atzmaut barbecue, and a couple times at the airport dropping off and picking up the young couple leaving and arriving from a two-week adventure in the US.

But this was the first time we were going to their home – on their turf, with their customs. It felt a little like the boyfriend’s family in My Big Fat Greek Wedding when they’re invited to meet the extended Greek clan.

Y’s parents weren’t barbecuing a sheep on the front lawn, but they were vivacious, offering tons of delicacies, and there were lots of them – brothers, babies, girlfriends and even a feisty grandmother, who probably had fought Arabs in the War of Independence with her bare hands.

I always thought we were a pretty upbeat, vivacious family of our own, but after spending an afternoon with Y’s family, I began to feel like Ian Miller’s ‘dry toast’ family.

bundt.jpgWhen the heaping platefuls of Iraqi hamin (cholent) was passed around, I received the honor of getting a big calf’s leg. The father said ‘you’ll love it, the meat is so tender’. Well, it felt a lot like fat, or jelly, to me. So I pretended to move it around on the plate and take a stab or two at it, before leaving it on the side with a defeated look on my face.

I guess it’s now our turn to invite them over next time. Maybe we’ll make a nice bundt cake…


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