Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Quest for the Best Gluten-Free Cholent

rival crock-pot versaware pro crockpot slow-cooker

This shabbos, I finally found one of the holy grails of kosher gluten-free cooking - A fantastic gluten-free cholent. I crafted this Ashkenazi/Sephardi fusion cholent by accident, really. Cholent is a stew that cooks slowly in a crockpot during Shabbos (the Jewish sabbath, during which observant Jews do not light or extinguish fires or electricity) without being stirred or having the heat adjusted in any way. It's the ultimate in low-maintenance cooking, since you just add a bunch of ingredients to the crockpot and let them cook overnight with no interference. People who've never tried slow cooking in a crockpot might think that all the ingredients would be mush after so much cooking - Strangely enough, vegetables tend to retain their shape and stay fairly firm during crockpot cooking. The meat, which should preferably be from a tougher cut (tough cuts do best with slow cooking in liquid), will become deliciously tender and fall apart when you stick your fork into it. Ashkenazi cholent is usually made with barley or wheat berries, neither of which people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance can eat. But you won't miss the grains with this cholent, as it's unbelievably flavorful and has a variety of textures.

The Sephardi influence on this dish is the use of spices and flavorings that you wouldn't normally find in an Ashkenazi cholent (paprika, lots of garlic, turmeric), as well as the optional addition of whole in-the-shell eggs which become hardboiled over the course of the slow-cooking process. This is a little more decadent and a little more healthy than your average cholent. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that this dish has completely changed my conception of cholent. It's heavy but doesn't sit in your stomach like a rock, as some cholent does. My partner is a cholent-eating afficionado and she gave this one two thumbs up.

I sauteed the meat to brown it about 1/2 hour before candlelighting on Friday (a little before 7) and then transferred it, along with all the other ingredients, to the crockpot. My crockpot (pictured above) automatically switches to its warm setting as soon as the cooking time you set it for is done - So at about 7 in the morning on Saturday it switched over, and we ate it at 12:30 PM. It was hot, and perfectly cooked. We ate the leftovers for lunch today and my partner mentioned that this was the first time she'd had the desire to eat leftover cholent. But then again, this is no ordinary cholent!

A little disclaimer: I call for "powdered gluten-free onion soup, vegetable or chicken soup mix." Most kosher soup mixes have MSG in them. That's part of what makes them so tasty. I generally refuse to purchase or consume anything with MSG. But this is my exception. It's my little vice, I guess. If you must avoid MSG at all costs, you can use a couple of gluten-free MSG-free bouillon cubes instead. I've found a kosher, gluten-free brand called Bloch's Best that has no MSG. It's imported from Europe - I found it at Natural Spot in Teaneck. They won't be quite as flavorful as the mixes with MSG, so if you like you can use more salt and more spices and a little more white wine to make up for it.

If you don't have a slow-cooker you can still make this dish - Bring the ingredients to a boil, reduce to a simmer, then right before shabbos cover the pot very tightly and either simmer over a low flame all night, or have it cook in the oven on a low setting.

I will be happy if thise recipe helps just one other gluten-free Jew have more joyful and delicious shabbos... and even happier if some non-Jews and/or non-celiacs will discover this as a new way to prepare a filling one-pot meal.


A Slow-Cooked Meat & Bean Stew for Shabbos and Every Day

[ Gluten-Free / Dairy-Free / Soy-Free ]

1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 lb to 1 1/2 lbs cholent meat / stew beef
1 onion cut into chunks
2 cups dry cholent bean mix or any combination of pinto beans, cranberry beans, white beans and/or kidney beans
3 Tbsp powdered gluten-free onion soup, vegetable or chicken soup mix*
1 or 2 carrots cut into 1" slices
5 medium yukon gold potatoes, unpeeled, cut in half
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled, cut in quarters
1 cup sliced white mushrooms
5-10 cloves of garlic, chopped roughly or sliced
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp smoked paprika
2 bay leaves
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
Optional: Generous dash of white wine
Optional: 2-4 uncooked eggs in their shells

[*I use Osem's pareve, vegetarian, kosher-for-Passover "Chicken Style Consomme Instant Soup & Seasoning Mix" which is gluten-free. I purchase it at Passover to last me year-round since the rest of the year their formula includes gluten.]

In a pan, or in the ceramic liner of your crockpot (if it's the type that can be removed from the element and used like a pot on the stove) heat 1 Tbsp vegetable oil over medium heat. Add onions and sautee for 2-3 minutes. Add meat and cook only until browned on the outside. Move onion and meat mixture into the crockpot (or move your ceramic liner back onto the heating element of the crockpot). Set it so that it will cook on low for 12 hours and then switch to its warm setting.

Add dry (unsoaked) beans, then potatoes. Add all of the rest of the ingredients except for the eggs, distributing ingredients as evenly as possible. Make sure the meat won't touch the lid of the crockpot. Nestle eggs carefully on top of other ingredients. Pour water into the crockpot until it covers everything. Put the lid on, making sure it fits securely so that steam doesn't escape (use a layer of tin foil underneath if necessary).

Do not stir the cholent until you are ready to eat it, at which point you can remove the eggs so that you don't crack their shells, and stir it VERY gently.

Serve in bowls, topped with the now-hardboiled eggs (if you included them). If you've warmed your favorite gluten-free bread or challah on the top of the crockpot you can use it to sop up the stew.

NOTE: This recipe is for a 6-quart crockpot. For a smaller crockpot, reduce all the quantities slightly. No exact measurements are necessary for this recipe.


Unknown said...

Here are some other options:
Morrocan "Stulent" -

Broccoli Chulent - Use GF grain instead of brown rice -- or leave out the grain.

CrockPot Chicken - Just use GF seasoning mix. This isn't chulent, it's a chulent alternative:

ByTheBay said...

Solutionsforbusymoms: Brown rice is 100% gluten-free... But thanks for the links. It's great to have some other ideas now that I'm using the crockpot every week.

~M said...

This looks great! My aunt, by marriage, is Moroccan, and her mother makes unbelievably tasty hamins. I love the slow-cooked, flavor infused eggs! It's like hardboiled eggs in meatloaf!

Speaking of eggs, I wonder if you could make shakshuka in the crockpot, possibly adding the eggs later...

If you gather a bunch of gf crockpot recipes, I'd love to see a roundup!

Good luck in school and take care!

Cindy said...

Glad to see you're back! I haven't made a cholent since last year, but I used sweet potatoes too and it was a hit. I'll share your recipe with our family since they keep asking me for another variation on my old recipe for cholent but I'm too busy to post one :) Thanks,

ByTheBay said...

Cindy - Hope they like it. As a side note - I hate how un-photogenic cholent is. I mean I wouldn't have taken a photo on Saturday since it's shabbos. But I wanted to take photos of the leftovers on Sunday and... I quickly realized it wasn't worth it. It doesn't look nearly as delicious as it tastes. Thus the crockpot picture - Hehe.

Anonymous said...

Should this crock pot picture be getting me as excited as it is?

ByTheBay said...

Dear Poet: Yes, yes it should. It is the sexiest crockpot ever. The pot comes out so you can brown meat or onions on the stove and then transfer it to the crockpot and then when you're done cooking transfer the whole thing to the fridge... and then to the oven if you like. It's amazing.

Carie :) said...

Sounds great, but any ideas for a veggie version? I MISS CHOLENT!!!

ByTheBay said...

Carie - I do have a couple of recipes for vegetarian cholents but they aren't traditional cholent - One that I'll post soon is a "southern cholent" which is a stew of black-eyed peas, collard greens and sweet potatoes. It's also slow-cooked. There's also always veggie chili, which I've made in a crockpot for shabbos. I'll post recipes soon!

Anonymous said...

Wow this is really tasty. I added all the listed ingredients except beans and soup mix. Instead I added apple cidar, cinnamon, braggs, and molasses. For onion soup I added minced onion,onion powder, salt and seasoned salt. I added my own corn starch in water once it was boiling. It tasted like a tagine from N. Africa. My kids loved their cuisine and devoured this dish. I ate some over extra acorn squash.

Gluten Free Steve said...

I haven't eaten cholent in YEARS. This sounds good and is making me crave good Jew Food. Maybe I'll make a potato kugel this weekend...or hamentashen, why wait until Spring?!

Cindy said...

I know this notification is late, but I nominated you for an Excellent blog award. I know you've racked a few others up on a shelf there, but come check it out at Cindalou's :) I adore Crockpots and find them very useful. We do a lot of cholent variations, especially in fall and winter. I'll be pointing many friends and family to the Bay here for the holidays (especially for some un-matzo balls :) ).

Batya said...

I make a yapsuk cholent for Pesach and am making it more regularly now that we've gone gluten-free for my daughter.

It's basically you take your favorite shredded potato kugel recipe, dump it in a crockpot, and bury a number of pieces of flanken (short ribs) into it. Cook over shabbos. It doesn't look pretty, but everyone eats it.

Anonymous said...

This is very similar to my friend's cholent recipe that she invented and I adopted. I omit her barley and add brown rice instead. Suddenly, it's a delish, GF cholent. However, I do not buy the MSG soup mixes. Read the label and you'll see it's mostly onion flakes and salt. So, I add 1 TB onion flakes, 3/4-1 TB sea salt, in addition to a couple TBS of GF soy sauce. All other ingredients are the same as yours. It is a fabulous cholent, I agree. Now you can eat it MSG-free, too.

Shelli said...

Liebers brand has the MSG-free parve soup stock bases. I use them in everything! :)