Monday, December 13, 2010

Cholent/Hamin (slow cooking vegetable stew)

Cholent or Hamin is a traditional Jewish dish, because it can be put in the oven on Friday afternoon, before the Sabbath begins, and is ready to be eaten on Shabbat itself. Every Jewish community has its own version of this dish. This is my family's vegetarian variation on the Eastern European version.  It is a thick, delicious warm stew that is ideal for a cold, snowy winter weekend lunch, ideally followed by a long nap.

Important note: this dish quite literally cooks overnight, so you need to start prepping it the day before you plan to eat it. Also, I make it in the oven, but I understand a slow-cooker is actually perfect for this.


Ingredients (for four-six portions):

- 1 large onion, diced.
- 2 tsp oil
- 1 cup of white beans (navy, baked beans etc.). You can use canned or pre-cooked frozen. If you want to use dried beans, soak them in water overnight before beginning this recipe.
- 0.5 cup to 1 cup uncooked brown rice (you can also use wheat, pearl barley or white rice, but I like brown rice best for this).
- 3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into ping-pong ball sized chunks.
- 2 carrots, chopped into large chunks
- seasoning: salt, pepper, paprika, chili powder, vegetarian natural bullion powder (optional)
- 4-6 hard boiled eggs, shelled (optional)


1. Choose a large pot that has a cover, and that is oven safe (and can fit in your oven). In it, heat the oil and fry the onions until golden.

2. Add the potatoes, carrots, beans and rice and mix. Fill the pot with water until the potatoes are fully covered in water. Season with plenty of salt and pepper, about a teaspoon each of paprika and chili powder, and a tablespoon or so of the bullion powder (you can skip the bullion powder, but it does give the finished dish a richer flavor. Consider seasoning more or perhaps adding a bit of veggie stock instead of water).

3. Let the ingredients go to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes.

4. Preheat your oven to a very low heat (200 F, about 100 C). Place the hard boiled eggs on top of the vegetable mixture. Cover the pot and place it in the oven.

5. Cook the Cholent overnight in the oven. Look at it from time to time, just to make sure that it is lightly simmering and looks ok. A note about the time: in an ideal world, the cholent should really be in the oven for at least twelve hours, as this allows all the flavors to meld and mix. However, most of us don't live in an ideal world. I've found it is still delicious if you just cook it for 5-6 hours. Also, if you don't want to leave your oven running all night, I find it also works fine if you cook it for a few hours in the evening, then turn off the oven, and turn it back on in the morning for a few more hours.

This dish really requires very little accompaniment. Serve it, as is, with a little fresh salad on the side.

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