Sometimes there are recipes that without them, a holiday or occasion just isn’t the same. For my husband, cholent and Shabbos just go together. For recipes like this, I like to do a “reboot” meaning I like to find some way to make something that satisfies that craving or desire without sacrificing healthy eating. I plan on featuring many of these “reboots” here.
Cholent (or chulent or dafina) is a traditional Sabbath stew that has been made by Jews since they cooked in large communal ovens long ago. It became popular because wives could toss it together using ingredients that weren’t expensive or uncommon and then leave it inside an oven cooking all through the night until the mid-day Sabbath meal and then the family could have a tasty, hot meal. It’s rumored that cholent is the whole reason the inventor of the modern crock pot created it, so that his mother could more easily make the family cholent over the Sabbath. Regardless, in modern times, cholent is usually made in a crockpot.
There are many recipes and each family has their own twist on it and cholent competitions can be really, well…competitive! Most cholent recipes involve beef or occasionally lamb along with potatoes and pearled barley to make a thick, rib-sticking stew. Sephardic Jews may have more spice in theirs or even substitute rice for the barley and others put whole eggs or kishka in theirs. I’ve rarely met a cholent I didn’t like and the smell of cholent cooking is definitely a big part of Shabbos morning!
The problem is…most cholents are high in fat and empty carbs along with a lot of salt. White potatoes, beef spareribs and cheek meat and barley that has had the hull polished off all add up to something lacking in fiber and nutrition and packing in the calories, cholesterol, and sodium. That’s food that will stick around in your arteries as well as your ribs.
My compromise is a cholent that leaves out the meat and eggs entirely and substitutes sweet potatoes for half of the white potatoes to add a little more nutrition. I’m also substituting whole barley for the pearled barley by using a product that’s been pre-cooked but is whole grain. I’m also using low-sodium vegetable stock and a lot more spices to add in some flavor. Here’s the recipe, but feel free to substitute whatever sounds good in your pot!
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 potatoes (I like red potatoes, but yellow or even russet work just fine), cubed. I like to leave the peels on my potatoes, but you do you!
1 sweet onion, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
4 cups vegetable broth (low sodium preferred)
2 Tablespoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 Tablespoon Za’atar mix (if you have it, if not, substitute 2 teaspoons ground coriander plus 1 teaspoon oregano)
2 cups chickpeas or garbanzo beans or other canned white beans, rinsed
1-2 cups parboiled or pearled barley, depending on how thick you prefer it
4 cups cold water
Combine everything in a large crockpot and set to high until mixture begins to boil. Lower heat to low or warm. (My crockpot runs hot, so warm is best for mine.) You want the stew to just very gently simmer. Before the Sabbath, make sure it’s set to warm or low and covered with foil according to your Local Orthodox Rabbi and check to see if it looks dry or too soupy. Add either water or more barley and stir before candle lighting. If not making this on the Sabbath, make sure it gets at least 8 hours to cook and that the beans and potatoes are tender and the barley is soft. The more you make cholent, the more you’ll figure out how you like it and how to judge what needs to be added. Some like theirs soupy and we like ours really thick!
I would serve this with salad, treating it as something “beany” in that I would probably consider 1/2 cup a carb serving for a diabetic and dose for about 25 grams of carbs accordingly. For non-diabetics, I might serve with a salad and a nice slice of whole grain challah for dipping.