A hearty & satisfying vegetarian cholent full of British flavours! Made with carrots, parsnips & a can of baked beans, it’s a perfect British Shabbat stew.Like many people, I love to learn about Jewish foods from around the world. It’s fascinating to see how Jewish cooks of ages past have adapted local recipes and ingredients to create delicious kosher dishes and specialties for Shabbat and the festivals.
Of course these days truly local ingredients are something of a rarity and regional dishes are available well outside their original areas. Which is great for those of us who like to eat delicious things! But still makes me a little bit sad at the same time.
Time for cholent
These days I don’t make cholent – the slow-cooked bean and barley stew, traditionally served for Shabbat lunch – very often. DH isn’t much of a fan, and we tend to stick to cold food and salads instead.
But back when I was a student, vegetarian cholent was an absolute staple. We would cook a huge pot for Shabbat, and then eat the leftovers over the next several days. It was cheap, tasty and filling – perfect student fare! We had an electric stove and if we turned the smallest ring down to its absolute lowest setting, it would keep a huge pot of vegetarian cholent bubbling ever so gently for the requisite 18+ hours. Which of course had the added benefit of keeping our draughty student flat warm too!
Variations on a theme
An all-cholent diet can get a bit boring though, so we would liven things up by ‘theming’ our cholent and adding different flavourings and ingredients to the pot each time. Mexican cholent had kidney beans, sweet potato, chilli, and plenty of tomato. French cholent was made with whole garlic cloves, red wine and herbs. Indian cholent had chickpeas and curry spices, and was served with a dollop of chutney. All totally inauthentic but it made for some interesting meals!
The Great British Cholent
One thing we never came up with though, was British cholent. I was thinking about it recently and wondering what ingredients and flavours would render the classic Shabbat stew British. Ultimately, I settled on a list of solidly ‘British’ vegetables, plus a tin of baked beans and a dash of Worcestershire sauce! I like my vegetarian cholent heavy on the barley, so that went in too, but you can adjust to your taste. All you need is a nice cup of tea on the side and you’re all set!
Timing is everything
As I mentioned, DH is not a fan of cholent, mostly because he thinks it’s ‘over-cooked’. Which it is, I suppose, but isn’t that the point?
In the depths of winter, when we light the candles as early as 3:30pm (or even earlier), a pot of cholent could well be bubbling away for 20 hours or more. Obviously in high summer, when Shabbat waits till after 9:00pm to get started, cooking time is reduced accordingly. But who wants to eat cholent in July?!
Personally, I think that late spring and early summer is the perfect season for cholent. The weather is often still on the chilly side, so a warming bowl of hearty Jewish stew is very welcome. Meanwhile Shabbat doesn’t begin till after 8pm, so even if you leave your vegetarian cholent cooking all night, it’s likely to be a maximum of 16 hours. Which is well long enough.
The aroma of Shabbat
There is something particular about the smell of cholent cooking that I find incredibly evocative. Rich, warming and delicious, this glorious scent fills your home with the promise of a delicious meal.
I made the cholent that you can see in the photos on a Wednesday, and when my daughter Kipper came home from school, even she was transported. “What’s that amazing smell, Mummy?!”
And just like waking up to it on Shabbat morning, she got to experience the few hours savouring the aroma until she could tuck in and enjoy our glorious vegetarian cholent for dinner.
Eat and reheat
One thing I definitely learnt from my student cholent experiments is that this is a dish that can stand endless reheating. So if you don’t fancy leaving your stove or oven on for the best part of a day, you can simply cook for 2-3 hours, then reheat when you’re ready. If anything, it’s even better on Tuesday than on Shabbat…
Will you be trying my locally-inspired Great British Cholent?
What are your favourite regional specialities?
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Great British Cholent (vegetarian)
- 1 medium onion
- 250 g potatoes (roughly 2 medium or 1 large)
- 200 g carrots (approx 2 large)
- 200 g parsnips (approx 1 large or 2 small)
- 100 g baby button mushrooms
- 3-4 tbsp vegetable oil
- 200 g baked beans in tomato sauce (or use a full 400g tin if you like it really beany)
- 75 g pearl barley
- 750 ml hot vegetable (or parve chicken) stock (or enough to cover the other ingredients)
- 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 bayleaf
First, prepare the vegetables. Peel and slice the onion; peel the potatoes, carrots and parsnips and cut into 2cm chunks. Brush any dirt from the mushrooms.
Preheat the oven to 170C.
Heat the oil in an ovenproof pot over a low/medium heat. Cook the sliced onion for 1-2 minutes until softening and starting to brown. Add the potatoes, carrot, parsnips and mushrooms. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for 4-5 minutes.
Add the baked beans, the pearl barley, the stock and the Worcestershire sauce to the pot and stir well to combine. The liquid should completely cover the other ingredients. (Add a bit more if you like a soupier cholent.) Tuck in the bayleaf and cover with a tightly-fitting lid.
As soon as the cholent has come up to a simmer, transfer to the oven and cook for 2-3 hours, stirring halfway through (if you remember).
Serve straightaway, or allow to cool and reheat as required. (If reheating, add some extra stock or hot water, as the barley will absorb any 'spare' liquid as the cholent cools).
If you want to cook this the traditional overnight way, add a little extra water and set the oven temperature to 160C rather than 170C. Alternatively you can cook the cholent in a slow cooker set to 'low', in the usual way.