Saturday, October 06, 2007

no cooking allowed!

this stew-like meal, called (a)dafina, is the sefardi counterpart to the ashkenazi sabbath dish called cholent. since no cooking at all is permitted on the jewish sabbath (from sundown friday night until a little after sunset saturday night), those who are observant must prepare virtually all foods in advance, a job which can be a bit challenging and even stressful at times, especially when coupled with the holidays directly preceding or following it.

dafina is really the spanish - moroccan version of a group of like dishes called hamin or hamim — slow and long cooked stews which are prepared and half-cooked before the sun sets on friday evening and left to finish cooking on their own overnight. in days gone by, people brought their dafinas or hamins to the local jewish baker's oven to sit overnight in the spent daily fire, cooking in the embers which were slowly going cold. of course, the bricks of the ovens helped to retain enough heat to keep the dishes hot enough and cooking to be ready for the next late morning.

today, people continue making these same dishes which are hundreds of years old but in their modern day ovens which are set to a low heat (and left on for 25 hours to keep food warm) or on a plata (hotplate) or blech (thin sheet of metal covering the stovetop burners). these dishes can also be very successfully made in a slow cooker (i.e. crockpot).

basically, hamins and cholent are the same thing — meat of some variety (beef, chicken, lamb) cooked with an assortment of beans and/or lentils & grains and root vegetables. the important thing is that ingredients which can all stand up to long cooking be used. there are no steadfast rules to what is used; often, the recipe varies from week to week depending on what's available and what one is in the mood for. in fact, they can also be made completely vegetarian & vegan by removing the meat & eggs elements. it can also be made gluten-free by removing the baked wheat and using only rice.

where the sefardi version differs from the ashkenazi one, here in the case of adafina, is that chickpeas are included along with a variety of spices not seen in a cholent. as well, the texture of the sefardi version is soup-like and not thicker and more viscous as is the ashkenazi version. different hamins from different countries do not necessarily include chickpeas and will have different spices and ingredients. what is common to sefardi versions is the use of eggs.

the eggs are slowly cooked overnight and result in something called huevos haminados. though cooked together here with the dafina, these can also be made parve (neutral - no dairy/no meat) by cooking on their own in other ways. the eggs are sometimes eaten at breakfast time or served as part of the first course of the dafina meal.

another ingredient specific to the spanish / moroccan version is the use of what is called blé or wholegrain wheat. along with rice, this ingredient can be cooked as shown below in ovenproof plastic bags or separately in little casseroles. i only use parboiled rice as i find the density of the grain will stand up best to the long cooking and remain quite firm.

the long cooking process serves to caramelize and deepen the flavour of the meat and softens it along with the chickpeas and eggs to a buttery texture. the long cooking of the rice and wheat also leaves them exceptionally good — especially in the case of the wheat whose texture becomes something which cannot be achieved by any other cooking method.

i am posting this not because i expect, or think, the average person reading this will run to his/her kitchen and try it. rather it is more as an explanation and demonstration of the continuity of culture and food traditions which are centuries old. to be honest, both cholent and hamins are dishes which most people either love or detest. after 16 hours of cooking, it often looks a frightful mess and charred on top — quite inedible. the truth of the matter is, as we say, dafka: quite the opposite in spite of what you may be thinking ..... it's quite edible. in fact, it's quite good! ;)

dafina (adafina) · חמין) דפינה)
spanish-moroccan sabbath stew

makes a small dafina (2 - 4 ppl)


3/4 c chickpeas, soaked overnight
6 - 8 good sized pieces of "cholent meat"*
2 veal or beef bones or marrow bones
8 - 10 baby potatoes
1 large onion or 2 medium, sliced somewhat thinly
6 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole (or whole head of garlic unpeeled)
1 egg per person
3 to 4 dates

optional vegetables: root only - cut in serving sized pieces — turnip, sweet potato, carrot {add these 15 minutes before dafina finishes cooking on stovetop}.

*the meat you use must be able to stand up to 12 to 16 hours of cooking without becoming tough; it must also have a layer of fat on it.

**to add non meat proteins (vegetarian/vegan), one can use extra firm tofu or seitan pieces.

seasonings & spices:

1 to 2 tsp salt (depends on size of dafina)
1/4 - 1/2 tsp black pepper (or to taste)
1 heaped tsp paprika
1/8 - 1/4 tsp hot paprika
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp (or more) cinnamon (or part of cin stick), cumin, coriander powder
1 bay leaf
1 tsp sugar
1/8 tsp saffron threads (do not omit)

6 c water + 2 more (approximately) - see recipe description

for the wheat:

(you can also double the amounts — i only make 1/2)

1/2 c wheat grains ("blé")
1 c water
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp turmeric
1 small green chili pepper, chopped or whole (opt)
2 tbsp oil

for the rice:

1 c parboiled rice or long grained type
2 c water (or a little less 1 3/4 c for firmer rice)
1/2 - 1 tsp salt
1/8 - 1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp turmeric
2 - 3 tsp chicken soup powder
1/2 - 1 tsp paprika
3 tbsp oil


place the chickpeas in a roasting pan (small in this case) with the onions, garlic*, eggs and meat. add the spices on top of the ingredients. make sure the eggs are sitting on top of the chickpeas or meat and not directly on the metal of the pan as they may crack like that.

*if using the whole head of garlic add it when you add the rice and wheat and leave it whole. just add it on top of the ingredients (not submerged) or you can wrap it in foil, cutting off a 1/4 inch of the top of the head of garlic bulb & pouring a little olive oil over it first before closing up.

add COLD water (6 cups) and bring to a boil over medium heat.

cook the dafina covered, on the stovetop in the roaster, for a good hour and a half over medium low heat and skim any of the impurities that come from the chickpeas and meat. take note that it may smell pretty gross from the bones and meat as it cooks initially, LOL. it will taste perfectly fine once it has finished cooking overnight.

make rice and wheat packages

wheat package:

rice package:

important: for both, make the knot near the top leaving space for expansion. this is very important. also you MUST make several small holes near the top of the bag with a pin so the bag will have air vents — the bag fills with air as it cooks. otherwise, the bag may pop while cooking.

add rice and wheat and add extra 2 C boiling water. make sure to taste the dafina before it bakes to see if you have enough salt and spices.

bake @ 250 F overnight in a tightly covered pan. the custom is not to stir at all & if more water is needed (if you check before going to bed or early in the morning), you add already hot water from a hot water urn. if you don't observe the rules for preparing food for the sabbath, just add boiling water from a kettle. don't add too much, however.

after baking, if you've never made this before, it will look somewhat frightful! at least the top of it, that is. it will be very dark and even looked burned but it is not. this is the caramelization of the sugars (in the starches), the result of a long slow cooking. underneath it all, it will be a golden brown colour.

to serve the dafina, the procedure is:

the "soup" of the chickpeas with the broth

(and the egg).

then the main dish of the meat, the potatoes along with the rice and the cooked wheat.


Pink Granite said...

Beautifully written, as always and absolutely fascinating!
Thank you so much.
- Lee

burekaboy — said...

hey lee - thank you for the comment and compliments :) glad you enjoyed reading about it; i actually could have added more but it was getting long!

hope you're well. btw, a belated shana tovah.

Vidya said...

Absolutely fascinating...I always learn something new from you.
I'm wondering about the plastic bags you've used. Are they any special kind? I thought that plastic and heat (even 250F) didn't go together. What did they use before plastic bags?

burekaboy — said...

hi vidya - the plastic bags are ones that are sold in grocery stores to roast or cook chickens, fish and other such things like vegetables. they're made from a substance that does not melt and can be used a fairly high heat, too. while they're called plastic, i'm sure they're not plastic as we know it. usually they're sold near where they have plastic wrap, tin foil, etc.

prior to that, people would place the wheat and rice in small crockery pots or baking dishes or wrap them in cloth (which i don't find works to my liking). instead of bags, people still cook them in dishes or jars which can be set in with the dafina or cooked outside it separately.

you should try experimenting with cooking chickpeas this way -- they come out incredibly soft and ALWAYS perfectly cooked. cook the chickpeas alone in water first for about 30 to 45 minutes and then place them in a covered pyrex along with well seasoned water or broth to cover (maybe a little more depending how much broth you want the next day; more is better than less as you don't want them to cook dry the next day!) and bake from about 7 or 8 pm until the next morning (or mid morning) at 225 to 250 F. just check if you need to add a little extra water before you go to bed. keep everything tightly covered. you can put a layer of tin foil over before placing the lid on. i'd say experiment with 1 cup dried chickpeas, the first time around.

Vidya said...

I'll try your suggestion with chickpeas one of these days. I usually soak them for 24 hrs and pressure cook them.

And thanks for the clarification about the plastic bags.

BTW, I bought two quince(s?) yesterday. Looking forward to making your jelly again sometime this week.

burekaboy — said...

vidya - you're welcome :)

the chickpea thing was just a suggested experiment of sorts -- i also make them in the pressure cooker but this way leaves completely whole and cooked in way which the pressure cooker can't do. well, in my opinion, at least ;)

i haven't seen any (quince) here yet. forgot to tell you that you can also use thicker crystallized sugar (size of very coarse salt) to coat them. they sell it at the health food stores and in bulk places. i'm sure whichever way you decide to make them, they'll come out great (since you've made them once already now).

sarita said...

looks so yummy to me! i'll make it as soon as weather cools a little.

burekaboy — said...

sari - y aqui hace 'solamente' 2*C en la manana (ahora)!! brrrrr!!!!

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burekaboy — said...

techiegeek - thanks for your visit and comment. good luck with your website's launch. much success!

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