Is there a more iconic Sephardic dish than Adafina? Or maybe we could also say “Adefina”, “Dafina”, “Aní”, “Ḥamin”, “Caliente”, “Trasnochado”, “Skina” – so many names for one single dish.
This highlights six main characteristics concerning this dish. First, it was very popular among the Jews of Spain and the west of the Mediterranean basin in the 15th century. Second, variants of the recipes exist according to the territory where adafina was prepared. Third, regardless of which community of Jews cooked it in Spain, adafina should be buried, hot and cooked all night. The fourth characteristic concerns the etymology of the word adafina and its relation to the spoken Spanish and Arabic by the Jews of Spain. Seventh, cooking adafina could be a way to escape the trials by using different terms. Unfortunately, and obviously, this failed. Lastly, adafina was considered as a Kosher dish by the Inquisitors.
Andrès Bernáldez (a Spanish monk who lived during the half 15th century) associated the adafina with the Jews (hebreos) and Jewish practices (prepare a special dish, in a pot, starting to bake it at nightfall on Friday nights, and that will be consumed on Saturday for lunch). There was not only one version of this dish. The adefina could consist of meat, mint (yerbabuena), onion, chard (berzas), garlic and olive oil. It could also be made with meat, parsley, onion, mint (yerbabuena), chard (berzas), as it is mentioned in a Toledan trial from 1580. Simple ingredients were also used in order to prepare adafina, like chickpeas, lamb meat and vegetables, as a family from Alcalá (Spain) used to do for Shabbat. Even if there are few sources that mention it, we know that eggplants could be added to the adafina pot. While it is true that all of these dishes have some variation in the ingredients, they all contain meat, olive oil, chickpeas, and almost all chard/spinach, they are all cooked overnight, until the next day, for Shabbat.
Various literary works testify to the preparation and consumption of adefina between the 14th and 16th centuries. Four of them, the Libro de Buen amor, the Cancionero de Baena, the Copla a Pedro González, and the Cancionero general, were written in Spain and mention foods such as adafina. In one of the poems of the Cancionero de Baena (written by a converso), one can read that eating adafina is very bad as it causes bitterness and laziness.
Obviously, one cannot talk about Jewish food without mentioning the Inquisition. As soon as the Inquisition began in Spain in 1478 —with the first court in Andalusia— trial records were filled with stories that mention the term adefina. It is the most frequently used word when referring to Friday night culinary practices in the homes of conversos, a term that refers to the Jews who officially converted to Christianism but who still practiced Judaism secretly. This leads to two essential insights: first, the existence of a dish that is specific to Iberian Jews, and second, the knowledge and acknowledgement by non-Jews of a specifically Jewish dish. For instance, consider the final reports written by an inspector —called el fiscal in Spanish—concerning the Arias Dávila family. Beyond the statements transcribed in the accusations, the first obvious sign of Judaism was not the recitation of prayers or ways of dressing, but, rather, culinary habits, with the eating of adefina being the most commonly mentioned:
[…] she withdrew and returned to the Jewish Law under which she had been born and raised, by saying, doing and acting many different times, in many different places and moments, events and gestures, rituals and ceremonies of the Jewish Law, according to which they are accustomed to saying and doing, and we know and are certain that Doña Elbira Goncález, was accustomed to and followed the Jewish Law, that she had cooked [guizar] and prepared Jewish dishes, like adefinas and other dishes made by Jews, with her ceremonies and rituals and she brought them [these dishes] cooked in Jewish homes on Friday for Saturday and they ate them [adefinas] cold, secretly, in hiding.
The word adefina can also be found written adafina. Both terms are used in judiciary sources. Carlos Carrete Parondo explains that in the trial against the Arias Dávila family, the word adafina is employed to describe the dish “that Jews left [to cook] on Friday night, by covering it with a hot stone [rescoldo] and coals, to be eaten on Saturday.” He adds that “it is also called ḥamín and caliente.” The transcripts demonstrate that adafina was generally brought to the house of a family member, “cooked in the Jewish quarter on Saturday,” and “consumed every Saturday.” The preparation and consumption of adafina was also perceived by Christians to be a conspicuous sign of Judaism and a rejection of what Jews and conversos represented for them. A letter written to King Ferdinand in 1516 states that “nearly all the residents of this city [Seville] smell Jews [huelen a judíos], them, their houses and the doors of their houses [ellos, sus casas y las pertas de sus casas], because they are gluttons [tragones] and pigs [comilones], and they nourish themselves with casseroles [olletas], garlic [ajos] and adafinas.”
Adafina is presented in detail. Even though it is not explicitly named in the trial, the clues about dish leave no doubt. A witness narrates that Catalina, the wife of Alvaro de Luna, had asked her to prepare two pots: one for them and the other for her and the other servants. She asked her:
not to put lard in the pot that was cooking for her and her husband, only meat and sometimes chickpeas and other times vegetables; and she asked her to put a wooden spoon in this pot and an iron spoon in the other, and the spoon from the first pot must not be put in the other; and she asked that the meat for her and her husband be washed very well, and when chard was added to the pot that was cooking for her masters, Catalina Laynez required they be washed with water and salt, and then put in the pot. […] And they had a cow killed and the meat from the head, heart and innards was cooked, and once cooked, the witness chopped it at the request of their master and they added dry cilantro in the meat and their master put some in the cow’s innards and left it to dry and later they ate it.
The last step that is mentioned evokes meat sausages that are left to dry. Today, a small paté of beef seasoned with herbs and spices is still included in Sephardic adafina preparations
All in all, talking about adafina is not only talking about food. It is also talking about the customs of daily Jewish life and how non-Jewish people sense them. The trials of the Spanish Inquisition are rife with denunciations of conversos, who were often denounced by their servants because the latter were not allowed to prepare the dish on Friday evening. Sometimes, even these servants were sent out of the house when it was time to prepare adefina. The dish could also be cooked in an oven in the Jewish quarter judería, a fact that attracted the attention of informers.
Adafina is all this. Adafina is adaptation. Adafina is resilience. Adafina is permanency. Adafina is tradition. Adafina is good. Adafina is us.