What Do You Eat On Shabbat?

We all know that food plays an important role in our Shabbat routine. We know that we have a halachic obligation for three Shabbat meals. Many of us know that the Ari emphasized a kabbalistic importance to these meals. And many of us are very much set on a particular menu for Shabbat.

This is not a deep post. Yet the Torah we live encompasses all aspects of our personal and communal culture; and so this, too, is relevant in some way.

I have Ashkenazi friends in the NYC area who think that if you don’t have cholent on Shabbat, you’re some sort of heretic. Or at least insufficiently respectful of the hallowed requirements of Judaism, and maybe to be held in slight suspicion as ignorant or unreliable. When I ask them what they think Jews ate on Shabbat in Teheran, Halab, Fez, Saana, or fill-in-the-blank – they give me a blank stare.

The truth is, what people eat on Shabbat has much to do with personal taste, local culture, and what’s available. Here in the American Southwest, we are especially blessed with deservedly famous hot chiles. In the fall, parking lots all over town host chile roasters. Farmers bring their produce in burlap sacks, and roast it fresh for the customer. Even the supermarkets offer this service. The smell of roasting chiles permeates the air for a few weeks each fall. Most of us buy a quantity (15 or 20 lbs is common) to freeze and last till the next crop.

For me, hot chiles are the answer to a prayer. I thrive on a good Yemenite schug. I can eat it three times a day, with almost any sort of meal. My wife’s best friend is a Teimani woman from Bnei Ayish, and she supplies our needs; but this means getting a fix in small quantities to make it last. A good schug is altogether a rare thing outside of Israel. The best is made at home, in small batches, in a Yemenite kitchen. So, imagine my delight when we discovered that good hot chiles are ubiquitous in New Mexico. One could say theyÕre the state food. The question here is never, ‘do you want chile?’; it is only ‘green or red?’

So, on a recent Friday night, for instance, we had the sort of meal that many of our New York friends (the majority Ashkenazim, anyway) wouldn’t quite understand. We started with hummous. We had three types of schug. Our neighbors just made their first batch of Santa Fe schug using chiles from their garden. Both the green and the red were very good. And we had some of the schug that I had brought back frozen in July from Bnei Ayish. Very tasty, with a mild sweat breaking the brow.

It happens we skipped the fish. If we had fish, it likely would have been smoked salmon. Sometimes we have a Yemenite salmon (‘Moriah’s salmon’) recipe. A few times a year my wife will make salmon ‘gefilte fish’. Our neighbors will sometimes serve sushi. I, of course, put schug on my fish. And we rarely ever have typical whitefish/carp gefilte fish in our house.

After a quick zemer/song or short reading from the Nechama Leibowitz biography we’re enjoying, it is time for the main dish. Chicken? Beef? Could be; but our classic and favored by far meal is green chile stew. Served in bowls, with spoons. Bits of lamb and vegetables with lots of hot green chiles. And an extra napkin just for wiping the sweat off the brow. The stew is excellent with a dry red wine, or beer. It awakens nerve endings in the mouth you might not know were there.

I remember when Beit HaTfutzot/Museum of the Diaspora opened in Ramat Aviv some 30 years ago. There was an excellent exhibit, like a modern diorama, or a Jewish home on Shabbat. But this exhibit changed before one’s eyes, to show how Jewish homes around the world were similar, yet different. Certain items were in place in each version, with changes of local style; while other items like foods and clothing varied.

In New Mexico, the hot chile pepper is culinary king. For many of us, that bears a strong influence on our Shabbat cooking. What local influences shape the way you eat on Shabbat?

31 comments on “What Do You Eat On Shabbat?

  1. Although I have not carried on the tradition, my father often spoke of fish swimming in the bathtub on Friday mornings in the 1920’s and 1930’s. As the T-shirts for Israeli Air and Sea Assault Units (from Mr. T’s) said: Mess with us and you’re gefilte fish! I guess in those days it was easier to feed the fish than to refrigerate them.

    My tastes, as well as those of many neighbors, are eclectic. I like lighter meals, as do one family of fairly recent arrival in the US from Eastern Europe (husband first generation, wife recent immigrant). They keep “beano” on the table for those who are not so used to salads. I also have Turkish and Lebanese friends with many great dishes. We also have a wide range of Ashkenazi dishes available at different homes. I rarely have cholent at home. I do buy burekas, and buy or make salads with various “middle eastern” toppings and spreads. This is a pretty common practice in my predominantly Ashkenazic neighborhood, too.

    My most fun meal (now a minhag, since I did it twice in a row) was pepper steak and sushi on the first night of Rosh Hashanah. I am thinking of buying a new charcoal grill and inaugurating it on Pesach.

  2. I would just add to my wife’s recipe that the best green chile is the stuff grown in southern NM. The Missile Range is nearby, and they’ve been know to use the pressed chile oil as rocket fuel in a pinch! ;-)

    Be sure to have a good beer or wine with the meal to help control the heat, and a spare napkin for mopping the brow…

  3. Here’s the recipe for Green Chili Stew from the Scher household!

    1-2 lbs lamb stew meat (can use beef stew meat if desired)
    1 onion chopped
    In a large pot, add 1st the onions in olive oil for a few minutes, then add the meat and 2 T. flour continuing to brown.
    Add 14.5 oz can of stewed or diced tomatoes with water to make approximately 2 pints.
    1 t. salt
    lots of garlic, minced (usually about 4-6 cloves)
    13 oz either canned or (I prefer) fresh chopped green chili and best if hot!
    2-3 potatoes cut in bite size pieces.
    Bring to boil and simmer approximately 30 minutes and ready, although it will REALLY taste best if kept in refrigerator overnight or make Friday morning for Friday night!


  4. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Siman 72, Sif 7:

    It is a mitzvah to eat fish at each Shabbat meal, if eating them does not harm you. But if eating them harms you, or you do not enjoy eating them [literally, they are not sweet to you], then do not eat them, because Shabbat was given for enjoyment, not for pain.

    ספר קצור שו”×¢ – סימן עב

    מִצְוָה לֶאֱכֹל בְּכָל סְעוּדָה מִסְּעוּדַת שַׁבָּת דָּגִים אִם אֵינָם מַזִּיקִים לוֹ. אֲבָל אִם מַזִּיקִין לוֹ, אוֹ שֶׁאֵינָם עֲרֵבִים לוֹ לֹא יֹאכְלֵם, כִּי הַשַּׁבָּת לְעֹנֶג נִתַּן וְלֹא לְצַעַר

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  5. To Ross #24: Years ago, homemade gefilte fish really had some flavor, not like jellied dishrags. On the rare occasion when I can get to the store and buy ground fish to make my own gefilte fish, it’s well worth it, because it actually has taam (good taste). The stuff in the jar or the can or the frozen loaves or even the takeout fish just doesn’t equal it.

    I can’t blame you for hating the stuff. When it’s just my husband and me for Shabbos, no guests, sometimes we say to each other, “No gefilte fish this Shabbos – let’s have chopped liver or herring as the appetizer (“forshpeis”) instead.

    To their eternal credit, Sephardim have never acquired a taste for gefilte fish either. A nice piece of cold boiled carp or cold grilled salmon, that’s ten times better. Or how about the 21st century Jewish fish craze: sushi!

  6. Oh, I have tried so hard over the years to get a taste for gefilte fish. It never happened. Every few years I try again. When I was single, I would worry about insulting the host, but I saw nobody minded (they put my portion to good use.)

    But then…there was that one host in Brooklyn who just couldn’t leave go. After I politely refused, every d’var Torah during the meal was about how important…no, CRUCIAL it is to have fish at ALL three meals on Shabbos…and of course it was all directed toward me. He even tied it into the parsha in some convoluted way.

    I wanted to scream, “Oneg Shabbos! I hate fish!” but I saw how worked up he was.
    My wife doesn’t like it either, and I’m not sensitive enough to buy it when we have guests. (I’m working on it.)

  7. I make a simple, basic ordinary cholent that can be easily personalized by adding extras to suit one’s own taste.

    I use a 7-qt slow cooker on the low cook setting (not high and not keep warm). I generally set it to go for about 23 hours (three PM Friday to two PM Shabbos). I put a little bit of water in the crock, then place a cook-in bag in the crock, then add water to the cook-in bag.

    I start with chunks of potato (usually 1 small or 1/2 large potato per person), chunks of onion (including one whole onion for my husband), then add large lima beans (NOT the baby limas or the small white beans), red kidney beans and pearled barley. For large groups, it’s 1/3 of a bag of each legume; for just me and my husband, it’s half of that. I then add plenty of water, black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, a little bit of salt and a teaspoon of sugar. I do not add paprika, although most people do, as I don’t like the taste.

    Finally I put in the meat, usually I prefer middle chuck, about 1/3 of a pound per person, if there is a large bone or hungry boys, I might figure on 1/2 a pound per person. Sometimes I use kolichel, also called “fish meat” (not real fish) because it is a smooth piece of meat that almost looks fishlike. Sometimes I use a thick marbled steak or beef stew meat. The worst cuts of meat are generally the best for cholent; nice cuts like silvertip roast or top of the rib or filet steak actually don’t do well with all of that cooking.

    We happen to like a more watery cholent. I use a large slotted spoon to serve from the cholent crock into the serving bowl (permitted by the halachic authorities, not considered to be borer, or impermissible selecting) so that helps the cholent as served to be a little less watery on the plate than it is in the crock. Cholent tends to dry out a few minutes after serving, it turns more pasty as it sits (the soupy stuff left in the bowl turns into pasty stuff when you scrape it out into the garbage after Shabbos).

    Every smart frum man says that his wife’s cholent is the best in the world. I believe that every family personalizes its cholent to suit its own tastes. My oldest married daughter adds chili oil to her cholent, which I can’t stand but my grandchildren love.

    Kay Kantor Pomerantz wrote three cookbooks in the Come for Cholent series. She has some terrific variations on the basic ordinary cholent recipes, including Sephardic hamim and vegetarian versions. Her Come for Cholent cookbooks are still available at many Judaica stores. Note: Ms. Pomerantz isn’t paying me to push her books; I happened to mention the books but not the author’s name on the Chabad website, and she responded.

  8. To Shmuel #21: We have our invisible “shmiras halashon antennae” up (sort of like the character in the old TV show My Favorite Martian). Whenever I hear something that might be deemed “avak loshon hara” (literally, the “dust” of loshon hara, or some comment edging close to loshon hara), our invisible antennae quiver and send out inaudible signals warning us that the conversation has to be steered elsewhere, or else. Generally, this would include anything that is remotely negative, or any positive that could lead to a negative.

    One of my married daughters said once at the Shabbos table: “My mother never talks about other people.” I was so proud! I felt as if she had just handed me a bouquet! (What if G-d forbid, it had been the exact opposite, and my daughter had complained, “My mother is always talking about other people.” Wouldn’t I have felt ashamed?)

    I have heard it said, and sorry I don’t have the author and volume: “Superior people talk about ideas. Mediocre people talk about things. Inferior people talk about other people.”

  9. Judy Resnick–

    I admire your and your husband’s carefulness with respect to shmiras halashon (if I understood correctly, you indicated that you don’t allow any discussion of those not present). My question is how this works in practice. Is your practice to stop a guest from saying such as “Mr. X and I carpool to work together and we had a discussion that really got me to thinking about [insert relevant point of halacha, machshava, etc].” or “I have been learning b’chavrusa with Y for the last few years and being around him has really given me an appreciation for [insert relevant mida or approach to learning or to life]”?

    Please understand I am not arguing with your approach but rather trying to understand how this works practically.

  10. You are not the only person who has problems with beans. To reduce their gas content, soak the beans in water. Then remove the water and soak them in new water. Even more helpful would be to immerse them in boiling water.

    Some people make chulent without beans.

  11. Judy,

    No family member will allow me to demonstrate or even mention tuna cholent!

    Our older son makes our cholent now, using beef and the usual ingredients. On occasion, he has used cold cuts or small hot dogs or even chicken as part of the meat. Recently, he used some Wheatena in place of barley and it came out OK. The cholent also has whole eggs in it, in their shells. Since cholent type beans are hard for me to digest, he puts these in the crockpot inside a disposable fabric bag that can be pulled out and emptied separately at dinner time.

    Since we’re discussing cholents now, maybe we can get into a side discussion of consistency preferences, that is, pasty vs. watery. Quantitative data about flow and viscosity are probably unavailable.

  12. Salatim with challah are a must–hummus (homeade only please), 2-3 types of chatizilim, selek (beets) with olive oil, lemon & garlic, moroccan carrots, peper salad, matbouha, zaatar dip and of course, the fish. Who has room for anything else?

    OK, so when time is short we only make 2 or 3 quick & easy salatim & make chicken & rice or some type of chicken stew (boneless chicken thighs work best). Summer is grilled chicken & salads–nothing says Shabbat like the beautiful color of summer produce.

  13. Judy – sorry, I appeared to have messed up the HTML last time. I’ll try the link again, then post the recipe from the link:
    Indian Coconut Fudge (Nariyal Burfi)

    3 cups sweetened flaked coconut
    1 1/2 (14 ounce) cans sweetened condensed milk
    2/3 cup sliced almonds
    1 tablespoon ground cardamom (optional)

    Grease a 9×9 inch pan. Stir together the coconut and condensed milk in a large, microwave-safe bowl. Cook on High in the microwave for 7 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds. When the coconut mixture is hot and bubbling, stir in the almonds and cardamom. Pour into the prepared pan, and smooth the top with a spatula.
    Cool for 1 hour in the refrigerator, then cut into 1 inch squares with a greased knife.
    Nutritional Information

    Amount Per Serving Calories: 278 | Total Fat: 12.9g | Cholesterol: 17mg

  14. Mrs. Resnick, I’ll ask my wife for the recipe. My ‘recipe’ is simple: throw stuff in a crock pot, ensuring lots of hot local green chiles, and say (in the immortal words of Debbie Kay Howarth) “l’kavod shabbos koidesh!” ;-) Yaarah has a real recipe; I’ll ask her.

    BTW, when I make my (in)famous ‘one pot chicken’ a good use of the chiles is to lay them like blankets over each of the chicken pieces in the roaster.

    Shmuel, there are exceptions (such as some Hungarians) but my observation is that a lot of eastern European cooking is pretty bland. For a poor working person keeping kosher in eastern Europe, ingredients were limited and expensive. I suspect that greatly influenced what we now think of as ‘typical’ or ‘traditional’ Ashkenazi food for Shabbat and holydays. BTW, I think that also explains what a lot of Ashkenazim use at their Pesah seder…

    Larry’s taco bake sounds good. We have trouble getting refried beans. Our down and dirty version is the ingredients laid out over a layer of taco chips and topped with grated cheese. Nuke it in the microwave for a minute and serve with cold beer.

  15. To Bob Miller #13: Two years ago, during the “Operation Cast Lead” incursion of the Gaza war, there was an American Oleh, a “lone soldier” from Southern California who maintained a blog with photos. His postings were funny, thoughtful and extremely useful in counteracting the flood of negative propaganda against the IDF.

    One minor thing which I remember from that blog was a photo and recipe for “roasting tuna in the can,” which sort of involved putting pieces of tissue into the tuna hockey puck and setting them on fire. I suppose if you’re a kosher Israeli soldier marching along with full gear on the Badatz equivalent of army rations, then anything tastes good.

    I was laughing when reading your latest comment because at my right hand is a pile of three cans of O-U albacore tuna in water that I managed to purchase at CVS for 77 cents each. It was such a bargain I was thinking of buying literally a dozen, except I don’t eat tuna that much. Now with your recipe for tuna cholent, I can run back to CVS and buy twenty cans more and somehow survive until Pesach.

    BTW, I’m still waiting for Larry Lennhoff to share his recipe for coconut fudge. Also Rabbi Sher’s recipe for green chile stew. Bob, maybe you could try it and substitute tuna for lamb.

  16. Rabbi Scher–

    I find your post very interesting in light of the fact that one cultural difference (I don’t think it has anything to do with religion per se) I found when I became observant and part of a Jewish community was that almost no one in my community likes any kind of spicy (i.e. spicy hot) food. It may be a regional difference between the northeast where I am and the southwest where you are. But I always enjoyed food that was at least moderately spicy (I am not sure I could stomach much of what you describe, though I’d love to try it) and I have found that among the FFB’s in my community, almost no one likes anything the least bit spicy.

    On Shabbos I usually add some kind of hot sauce or hot peppers to my wife’s farfel or rice or whatever she made that week.

  17. OK, Larry!

    When I was working in New Hampshire, I had a small basement apartment in Manchester with a tiny fridge that had a broken freezer. So I had to improvise food for Shabbos when I wasn’t over someone’s house (usually in Lowell MA). I couldn’t shop for kosher meat on Sunday in Brookline MA and keep it fresh long enough. I found I could cook a tuna cholent in a crockpot using a can of albacore in water or oil plus these other typical ingredients:
    1. Canned potatoes, whole or sliced
    2. Small fresh tomatoes or fresh tomato slices or diced canned tomatoes
    3. Canned green beans
    4. Canned pineapple chunks & juice
    5. Canned Chinese stir-fry vegetables
    6. Cereal (such as Cheerios) or cracker crumbs
    7. Teriyaki sauce (a sauce from Ruth’s Kitchen in Brookline MA was best)
    8. Sweet and sour sauce such as La Choy
    9. Sometimes, grape or other juice

    One challenge was keeping the tuna in good condition during the long slow cook. The best way was to place the “hockey puck” intact into the crockpot before adding the other ingredients. This placement also worked when I used gefilte fish pieces from a jar instead of tuna fish.

    Anyway, it worked out well to my sophisticated taste. However, the mere mention of it to other people elicits groans and gagging noises. They do not have the spirit of adventure.

  18. Bob Miller: I’ll always treasure the look on my Bostoner friend’s face when I told him I was having chicken mango cholent for lunch.

  19. Judy

    Indian Coconut Fidge.

    Brownies were simple – Duncan Hines mix with 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/2 – 3/4 teaspoon chili powder.

    Taco bake is always done spur of the moment – in the dairy version take some combination of Smart Ground Mexican Style, refried beans, cooked rice, chopped chilies, red and/or green salsas, and shredded cheese. Put some salsa at the bottom to avoid sticking. Add each ingredient by layer, optionally putting a tortilla or a few broken tacos between each. The top layer should be cheese. Cook in the oven for an hour or so covered, and then for 15 minutes uncovered to crisp the cheese. Server warm. If you didn’t put anything between the layers, dip taco shells or chips when you put it on the table.

  20. Ditto to Larry Lennhoff: Can you share some of your recipes? I would love to try that taco bake, also the Indian coconut fudge and the brownies with chili and cinnamon.

    One can get tired of cholent and kugel! Too much of a good thing is not wonderful, it’s boring.

  21. Rabbi Mordechai Scher, that green chile and lamb stew you mentioned sounds like heaven in a bowl, particularly when it’s freezing outside. Would you be kind enough to share the recipe? I promise to give full credit!

    Years ago at Pesach, I served shmurah matzoh meal brownies, recipe courtesy of Mrs. Florence Davidson. There’s a well-known saying that repeating over Torah in the name of the person who first said it helps to bring the redemption. Somebody half-joking made the analogy that serving food in the name of the person who first gave the recipe, also helps to bring the redemption.

  22. As a BT I don’t see any reason to give up the wide variety of food I enjoyed in my younger days. Last shabbat we had Mexican food (taco bake with 3 kinds of corn chips, corn salad, and brownies (with chili and cinnamon)) for dinner and for lunch we had Korean (Kim Chee, Chap Chae, cold spinach with sesame seeds and garlic, Indian coconut fudge (burfi) and more.

    That isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy a cholent from time to time (though I prefer a good chili). I have friends who look with suspicion or distaste on any meal that isn’t chicken or beef with rice or potatoes. Elu v’Elu certainly applies, but I couldn’t live like that.

  23. IQBT #3, it’s too bad you don’t live in my home neighborhood of Bayswater. My husband Ira is an extreme “shmeeris haloishin fanatic” who never talks about other people, and I am the one who usually gently but firmly admonishes any person at our table, family or guest, who mentions the names of anyone else. (Usually the person being admonished remonstrates: “But it’s not loshon hara!” I then respond with, “We don’t talk about other people, period”).

  24. I don’t know anything about IQBT’s own situation, but I have never sensed any such problem with people who have hosted me for Shabbos meals anywhere. I certainly never made any conditions for having me over; the average nice hosts would shake their heads at this.

  25. PS and reveal as little information about yourself as possible, even if you THINK the information is harmless.

  26. I am an older single and long time baal teshuva. If I could go back in time and relive my past with the benefit of the knowledge I now possess, I would stay home instead of visiting people for Shabbis and Yumptiff. By staying home, my food is more costly and not nearly as good, but when I stay home by myself, I cannot be criticized, laughed at, humiliated or accused. Most important of all, by staying home for meals I would have prevented rumors against me, and prevented the ruination of my reputation.

    Two of the frummest families I know admit they talk about me to each other because of my visits to their homes. Whatever one family knows about me, the other family soon hears about. However, great rabbis said a Jew should always avoid being the subject of conversation. For me the only way to do that is to say home, because as long I continue to visit people for meals, I will always be the subject of conversation, no matter how hard I try to avoid saying things that cause people to talk about me.

    25 years ago, I believed that the better families to visit were those who had the best quality and quantity of food. Wizened by years of experience, I now realize that fancy food not important at all; the important thing is to either eat at home or only visit extreme shmeeris haloishin fanatics who will never talk about me at all, even to say nice things about me. Both study and practical experience taught me that even when people talk about me by saying nice things, they will eventually say things about me that are not nice. Therefore it is better to not have them talk about me at all.

    I realize that most of you reading this think I’m crazy, but I promise you there is nothing crazy about avoiding a ruined reputation. And in the frim oilum [the world of Orthodox Jews] it does not take a lot to ruin a reputation; everyone is expected to be flawlessly righteous, and even a small wrongdoing can cause big problems if enough people know about it. Over the past six months, I have been criticized and humiliated for things I repented completely from 19 years ago.

    If you absolutely MUST visit people instead of eating at home, then when the host invites you, tell him you are accepting on condition that no member of the family talks about you at all, even to say nice things, before, during and after your visit.

  27. There is a related halachic issue. On Shabbos, may the spice-challenged (especially in relation to schug, AKA the nuclear option) dinner guest use kosher Tums as after-dinner mints?

  28. It’s true that we typically eat what our parents ate. In the case of BTs, perhaps we eat what we learned to eat when we first guested for Shabbos.

    I’ve been spending the past year doing more diverse cooking. I made the Chicken Hamin recipe from Baroness Tapuzina (http://www.baronesstapuzina.com/2010/05/29/chicken-hamin-with-israeli-couscous-and-butternut-squash) and I’ve been experimenting with stews, both Chicken and Beef, since the weather here in Austin, TX is pretty rainy.

    One almost always gets Cholent for lunch at Chabad, so our Cholent fix is well taken care of.

    At Chabad of El Paso, the Cholent had green chiles, pinto beans, and was served with hot sauce, though the hot sauce came from Costco.

    At Chabad of Austin, we get salsa and chips at Kiddush too.

    All this said, I frequently fall back on just the cuisine that my mom made for Erev Shabbos. Roasted meat, veggies and starches like kugels, rice dishes, etc. Gefilte fish first.

    (I learned recently that the kugel is a symbolic food. Since it has a crust on the top and bottom, it clearly represents the manna, with dew above and below, that was provided during the wandering in the desert. Clearly. Right?

    It’s only Monday, but Good upcoming Shabbos, to all.

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