Cholent blends Ashkenazi and Sephardi ingredients

Shaby Heltay Barbara Silverstein photo
Shaby Heltay Barbara Silverstein photo

Shabnam “Shaby” Heltay’s cooking prowess is known among many members of her community, especially those people who love South Asian food. Her catering company specializes in kosher Indian cuisine.

Heltay, 30, grew up eating South Asian food. Back in the ’70s, her Indian-born father, Shmuel Shyam Ranganathan, owned one of the first Indian restaurants in Montreal. 

Heltay shares her father’s passion for spicy food. She started Spicy Kosher, her own catering company, in 2008, and since then, she’s been serving up kosher Indian dishes like  tandoori chicken, coconut rice, cauliflower kurma and other curries. 

But now Heltay has a new culinary claim to fame. She recently became the cholent champion of the Village Shul in Toronto, when her cholent was chosen as the winning recipe for the shul’s first annual Top Chef Cholent Cook-off. 

Heltay has an unusual heritage. Her mother, Sara Ghoddoussi, an Iranian Jew, immigrated to Canada and settled in Montreal in the late ’70s. She ended up working as a hostess in the South Asian restaurant owned by Heltay’s father.

The two fell in love. He converted to Judaism and after they married, they made aliyah. 

Heltay is married to Evan Heltay and they have four children under the age of six. 

For anyone trying her award-winning cholent, recipe,  Heltay offers this advice: “As with any recipe, the secret to a transcendent cholent is to say, “Lichvod Shabbat kodesh” (“in honour of the holy Sabbath”), as you add each ingredient.”