When I was younger my family and I lived in many different parts of Israel, but never Tel Aviv. As a teenager, during high school and army prep camp this city was the place my friends and I went to party, and where we changed buses at the massive Central Station on our free weekends. I never considered life in Tel Aviv beyond those places and it is strange to be here now, among them, but with a very different purpose and outlook than I had at 16.
There is no question that I feel at home in Israel. My comfort level in this place far surpasses the feeling I get when I wander the streets of Boston or Cambridge. The reasons for that are a little mysterious to me, and probably too complex to explore in this venue, but the point is: being here, now, is both familiar and foreign at the same time. It is home because Israel was always home, even when we lived in the States, and foreign because this city in particular is largely new to me and (more relevantly) because I was away for so long. To stay away from a place you love for eleven years takes conviction and a sense of purpose. I was trying very hard to be at home elsewhere. In the process, Boston did become a home, filled with friends, family, jobs I loved (and ones I did not) and familiar places and memories. I am missing those things very much right now, and yet, Israel does not suffer in comparison. It’s strange.
Hamin is a dish that I ate at my agricultural high school and at people’s homes on shabbat in Israel. I grew up with something similar — cholent (my mother and many of our Ashkenazi friends made cholent for holidays and shabbat) but my Sephardic Turkish grandmother did not make anything like it that I can recall. Hamin is well-suited to the day of rest, because it can be left in a slow-cooker or on a hot plate indefinitely and grows tastier each day as the flavors meld. Coming up with a version that speaks to your family’s taste and background is part of the fun of cooking this dish.
There is no right way to make Hamin (Sephardi Cholent). Each ethnic group (and every grandmother) has their own version. Mine is vegetarian, naturally, and always includes potatoes and beans along with some tomatoes (or tomato sauce/paste), peppers and sometimes squash. In this recipe I added some winter wheat berries, since we are in the midst of what passes for “winter” here in Tel Aviv.
1 cup winter (hard) wheat berried, soaked overnight
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2-3 small boiling potatoes (such as yukon golds), peeled and cute into large chunks (I cut mine into quarters)
salt, pepper, cumin
2 zucchini or magda summer squash, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 spicy pepper, seeded and chopped (optional)
1 red or yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 can of white beans in tomato sauce
5-6 cups spinach (washed very well)
1 cup golden raisins
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a soup pot over medium heat, add the onions and cook for 5 minutes until they begin to soften, then add the soaked wheat berries, potatoes, salt and pepper (to taste), and a few pinches of cumin. Cook on medium, low, stirring occasionally for 7-10 minutes then add water to just cover. Bring to simmer and cook for another 15-20 minutes (until you can easily pierce the potatoes with a fork) then add the beans in sauce, zucchini and the peppers.
Cook, covered for about 15-20 minutes then add spinach,a handful at a time, covering the pot and cooking down between additions, and simmering until all the spinach in incorporated. Add the raisins, stir and cover the pot. Keep on low heat until ready to serve (the longer, the better).