I’m not ashamed to admit that I had been wanting a slow cooker for a long time. The appeal of the “fix and forget” meal is undeniable! All it took was one off-season sale + coupons and I had one for a reasonable enough price that I wouldn’t feel guilty if I only used it “sometimes.”
Because, as I suspected and soon confirmed, finding a really good slow cooker meal isn’t easy. Well, to be more precise, finding a really good one that can cook for 10 hours without suffering is not easy. I’ve done some great shorter cook time stuff (it was invaluable at Thanksgiving!) but the work-day meal has been harder to nail down.
I thought I had stuck gold when I started reading about Cholent, or Sabbath Stew. Essentially, it was the original slow cooker meal! A stew that was sealed up and cooked over a banked fire all night so that there could be one hot meal on the Sabbath. The traditional recipes include a fatty beef (brisket, rib etc.), potatoes, barley and beans, definitely not for the faint of heart.
While I’m sure it is delicious, I was looking for something a little less “intense” that we could eat on a weeknight. So, I started hunting around for something vegetarian. After lots of internet searching, I hit upon this recipe from a Montreal chef named Gigi Cohen.
Coming home that night, I approached my crockpot with a weird amount of apprehension. I just wasn’t sure what I was going to find! I scooped out a bowl and took a tentative bite. Well, it was ok.
Yeah I know, not a rousing endorsement. It wasn’t much to look at, as with most long-slow cooked food it had turned roughly all the same color of brown. The flavor was actually pretty awesome and you could still taste the spices and different hints of what was in there. Really, it was the texture that left me cold. Everything was just a mush. We tried to salvage it by putting it in a pan, topping with Panko and crisping it up under the broiler. That helped a little but still wasn’t great.
There just must be something more you could do! Maybe leaving the rice out of the recipe, fixing it on the side and then topping it with it later? Maybe having something with crunch or a little fresh veggies to stir in right at the end? I know these take away the “put it in, turn it on and your done” aspect of the slow cooker, but if it makes the dish better that is worth it!
So, I’ll still put up the recipe and encourage you to try it. However, if you aren’t a fan of …mushy foods….I would suggest you add your own twist to it. If you find something that works, would you please let me know?
Oh, side note! Claudia Roden in “The Book of Jewish Food” has a lovely description of Cholent’s history if you are looking to read more. Her book is just pretty amazing in general actually and no, I wasn’t paid to say that.
From Gigi Cohen
1 cup dried chickpeas
1 cup dried navy beans
4 medium potatoes, peeled
1 large onion, cut into quarters
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 cup of rice (or barley wheat berries or kamut..whatever that is)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons soy or tamari sauce
1 handful of porcini mushrooms
1/2 cup raisins (or other dried fruit of your choice)
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Measuring cups and spoons
Knife and cutting board
Slow cooker or large dutch oven
2. Cover with water (it took about 6 cups in mine, but it’ll depend on the size of your pot)
4. If you want to try the oven crisping method, layer the Cholent in a baking dish, top with breadcrumbs or Panko and put it under the broiler for a few minutes. Let me know what other suggestions you might have!