• STEP 1

    Heat 1 tbsp of the sunflower oil in a large frying pan set over a medium-high heat and sauté the onions, stirring frequently, for 8-10 mins, until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for a few minutes, until soft and fragrant. Sprinkle over 1 tbsp sugar and continue to cook for 2-3 mins, stirring frequently, until the garlic and onions are golden. Tip onto a plate and set aside.

  • STEP 2

    Wipe the pan with kitchen paper and add the remaining oil. Season the cubed brisket with plenty of salt and pepper, and brown in batches, for 5-10 mins, until browned on all sides. Transfer the browned beef to a second plate or bowl.

  • STEP 3

    Now, layer up the ingredients in a slow cooker. First, add the vegetables (including the cooked onions) in the base, then the beans and barley (give the dish a shake so that they fall into the gaps) and finally the browned beef.

  • STEP 4

    Pour 250 ml water into a large jug and stir in the date syrup or honey, both paprikas, tomato purée, onion granules, 3 tsp salt, plus a good grinding of black pepper. Whisk well to combine. Pour over the beef and vegetables in the slow cooker. Top up with enough water (we added 1.5 litres) to just cover the contents – do not stir.

  • STEP 5

    Set the slow cooker on low and leave to cook for 10-12 hrs until the meat and vegetables are tender, the beans soft and the gravy looks thick and stewy. Check the seasoning and add more salt and pepper if required, before serving piping hot.

Recipe tips

Try dried beans

You can also use dried beans for this recipe. Soak 200g dried butter beans and 100g dried chickpeas for at least 8 hrs before adding where you would usually add the canned beans.

What is cholent?

Cholent is a hearty, warming, slow-cooked traditional Jewish stew.

It evolved from Jewish religious laws, forbidding work (even the lighting of a flame) over the Sabbath – from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. For centuries, home cooks would put the ingredients in a large cooking pot, to be cooked in the village’s communal oven. In Eastern European shtetls (small towns), the baker’s oven was left on low over the Sabbath and everyone in the village would place their pots in there. On Saturday, after attending the synagogue (temple) the family could enjoy the hot cholent for their lunch. 

My recipe reflects the traditions in Eastern Europe — except for the chickpeas, which I include for their texture and nutty taste; smoked paprika, which adds an extra flavour layer; and sweet potato for colour and flavour. 

The exact recipe varied from region to region — even village to village — with different cuts of meat, beans, grains, vegetables and spices included. 

In other parts of the world, Jewish communities have similar slow-cooked stews incorporating other ingredients and spices. The version made by Iraqi Jews (tebit) is made with a whole chicken stuffed with rice; Moroccan Jews and those from Iberia make adafina (aka dafina) which is spiced with garlic, cinnamon, allspice, ginger and pepper. Whole eggs are nestled on top of the pot to cook slowly with the stew. 

Today, religious Jews make their cholent in a slow cooker or in an oven left low overnight. They will often have developed their own favourite recipe.

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