Not everyone will eat meat, but who wouldn't be glad to have a taste of cholent?
By FAYE LEVY
My favorite parts of the Shabbat overnight stew, whether an Ashkenazi cholent or a Sephardi hamin, have always been the barley, the beans and the potatoes. This made me wonder whether cholent could taste good if it were meatless. True, meat or chicken give the sauce depth of flavor, but, I thought, there are other ways to make food flavorful, like adding mushrooms and using a choice selection of spices.
When I asked my mother what she thought of the idea of a vegetarian cholent, she was not in favor of it. "Meat and fish and every tasty delicacy" are requirements for honoring Shabbat, she said, quoting a Shabbat hymn.
Rabbis came out on both sides of the question. In a Shabbat lesson at Machon Meir in Jerusalem, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, in a lecture entitled "Be Slim," insisted on including meat but conceded it didn't have to be fat meat. "The 'meat and fish' custom of the Sabbath refers to lean meat, like poultry, and lean fish," he wrote, "but not fatty meat, organ meat, sausage or eggs."
Rabbi Herschel Finman, writing in Askmoses.com, reached a different conclusion: "It is written in the Code of Jewish Law that one should eat meat and fish and drink wine to celebrate the Shabbat. However, the very same Code of Jewish Law states that if one is pained by eating fish, one need not eat fish." From this he infers that a parve or dairy meal is allowed on Shabbat, as long as it is prepared in a more special way than during the rest of the week.
Many tradition-oriented cookbook authors do not mention the possibility of making vegetarian cholent. One example is Zipporah Kreizman, author of Aromas of Shabbat and the Holidays (in Hebrew), who wrote that all sorts of meat are good in cholent, even spicy kabanos sausages, and that such rich additions as fatty meat, beef bones, chicken fat or meat roasting juices are desirable. Pascale Perez-Rubin, author of Israeli Flavors (in Hebrew) gives recipes for 10 kinds of hamin and cholent, all with meat or chicken. I'm sure her spicy-sweet Libyan version, combining white beans with beef, pumpkin cubes, sauteed onions, dried hot peppers, harissa (North African hot pepper sauce), tomato paste and the traditional Sephardi addition of whole eggs in their shells, should be delicious even without the meat.
Many cooks, including those who observe Shabbat, do prepare meatless cholent, generally because someone in their household is vegetarian or avoids meat for health reasons. Several versions appear in The Taste of Shabbos by Aish Hatorah Women's Organization, including one ketchup-flavored cholent of red beans, lima beans, barley, sweet potatoes, and whole wheat kishke. My friend Norene Gillitz, author of Healthy Helpings, adds lots of vegetables to her bean and barley cholent, including zucchini, green and red peppers, broccoli and cauliflower.
Meatless cholent is a popular item for serving at some synagogues for kiddush following the Shabbat morning service. There are practical reasons for this. Often the kitchen at the synagogue is set up for serving parve food but not meat. Besides, not everyone will eat meat but who wouldn't be glad to have a taste of cholent?
When I attended a festive synagogue lunch after my neighbor's bar mitzva, the Iranian caterer prepared three vegetarian cholents: one made with rice, tomatoes and whole baby carrots; one with large chunks of sweet potatoes, sauteed onions and wheat berries; and one with chickpeas, plenty of garlic and curry-style seasonings. All tasted great and together they were an illuminating demonstration of the many choices for making tasty cholent without meat. I think even my mother might have approved.
PARVE CHOLENT/HAMIN WITH MUSHROOMS, BARLEY AND BEANS
When I was discussing vegetarian cholent with a cook who prepared it every week for a synagogue, he mentioned that he had trouble making it come out brown. I suggested browning the onions and adding soy sauce, a trick I learned in France. He tried it and liked the result. I use this technique in this dish.
Because the beans cook all night, there is no need to soak them. If you wish to cook the dish for occasions other than Shabbat, simmer the ingredients over low heat for about 21â„2 hours or until all the components are very tender. If you like, you can add pieces of soy meat substitute, which is available dry at natural foods stores.
Another delicious way to prepare this cholent is to flavor it with Yemenite soup spice blend. To do this, omit the soy sauce and sugar and add two to three teaspoons ground cumin and 1â„2 to one teaspoon turmeric. If you like, serve the cholent with s'hug (Yemenite chili-garlic relish) or hot sauce.
3â„4 cup dried white beans such as Great Northern
3â„4 cup dried pinto beans
3â„4 cup dried chickpeas
350 gr. large mushrooms and 30-60 gr. dried mushrooms; or 450 gr. large mushrooms
3 to 4 Tbsp. olive oil or vegetable oil
3 large onions, cut in thick slices
8 large garlic cloves, chopped coarse
a 400-gr. can diced tomatoes (optional)
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried oregano
3â„4 cup pearl barley, sorted and rinsed
4 large carrots, cut in 7.5-cm. pieces
450 gr. large boiling potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 to 3 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. sugar (optional)
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 to 2 cups parve chicken soup (optional)
6 to 8 eggs in shells (optional), rinsed
Preheat oven to 85 to 95 . Sort and rinse beans. Halve large mushrooms. If using dried mushrooms, soak them in warm water for 20 minutes or until softened, then remove them from water.
Heat oil in a large casserole or stew pan. Add onions and saute over medium-high heat, stirring often, about seven minutes or until brown; there is no need for them to soften.
Stir in garlic, followed by tomatoes, thyme and oregano. Add beans, barley, carrots, mushrooms, potatoes, soy sauce, sugar, salt and pepper.
Add soup and eight to 10 cups water, or enough to cover ingredients by about 4.5 cm.
Bring to a boil. Cover and cook over very low heat for 20 minutes. Set eggs on top and push them gently into liquid. Cover and bake in low oven overnight. Serve hot.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Faye Levy is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes and The Low-Fat Jewish Cookbook.
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