Comfort foods from afar in trying times

The extremely hot weather, combined with the extremely dismal state of the world, has taken the pleasure out of cooking and eating. Nevertheless, I insist that our family eat together and that we include friends for conviviality and comfort in these challenging times.

Although it may seem out of context, cholent or dafina are good choices for large meals, with very little work. Traditionally, the cholent (from the Alsatian chaud and lent for hot and slow) is a dish that was put together just before Shabbat on Friday afternoons, then allowed to bake very slowly over a low, unattended fire.

The recipes that I’ve chosen are easy to assemble, and require minimal effort. The cholent is European in origin, and meat-free. The eggs can be enjoyed as an appetizer or as part of the main dish. The dafina is typical North African, with cinnamon, honey and cloves flavoring the boulettes, or meatballs, and turmeric and allspice intensifying the broth.

These recipes serve several people, providing leftovers and plenty for sharing. While you eat these meals, bless your friends and family, and pray harder for peace.

Slightly Piquant Vegetable Cholent | Serves 8-12

4 Tbs. vegetable oil
3 cups chopped onions
3 cups sliced mushrooms
8 cups vegetable stock
2 lbs. red potatoes, cut into 3-inch pieces
3 cups dried beans
1 1/2 cups barley
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup dried apricots
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 Tbs. Hungarian paprika
1 tsp. chili powder
8-12 eggs in the shell
Heat the oil in a large skillet, and sauté onions until browned. Add the mushrooms and sauté briefly. Set aside.
In a large stockpot, bring vegetable stock to a rapid boil. Toss in potatoes, beans and barley. Return to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the onions, mushrooms, the 1/4 cup water, dried apricots, salt, pepper and paprika to the beans, and mix well. Transfer about half the mixture to a Dutch oven or covered casserole. Place the eggs atop the mixture and cover with the remaining beans, so that the eggs are completely buried. Bake overnight at 225 degrees.

Dafina | Serves 8-12

1 cup chickpeas, soaked in water for 4 hours
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. allspice
6 cloves garlic
1 onion, sliced
3-4 lbs. beef short ribs or brisket
2 cups uncooked rice
1/2 cup olive oil
10 large carrots, cut into halves
10 medium new potatoes
1 cup pitted dates
1 Tbs. salt
4-6 cups water

For the Boulettes:

1 lb. ground beef
1/4 cup honey
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
2 eggs
1 Tbs. salt
Place the chickpeas on the bottom of a large (10-12 qt.) casserole. Sprinkle with the salt, pepper, turmeric and allspice. Put the garlic, sliced onion and beef on top of the chickpeas.
Make the boulettes by mixing together the ground beef, honey, cinnamon, cloves, salt and eggs. Form into a sausage-shaped loaf, wrap in foil and place next to the beef.
Tie up the rice in a large piece of cheesecloth, allowing room for the rice to expand as it cooks. Place on top of the meat. Pour the olive oil over the rice.
Surround the rice with the carrots, potatoes and dates. Sprinkle with the 1 Tbs. salt.
Add enough water to barely cover the potatoes. Place the pot on top of the stove and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover the pot and simmer for several hours, until the rice and chickpeas are cooked and the meat is tender. Alternately, place the dafina in a 275-degree oven for 10 hours. Serve in deep bowls.

Rebecca Ets-Hokin is a certified culinary professional. Visit her Web site at She can be reached at [email protected].