The slow cooker is a crucial piece of kitchen equipment for folks keeping kosher, particularly on the Sabbath when they aren’t supposed to work or tend the fire. The simple solution for putting together a hot and ready midday meal is to assemble it in the slow cooker Friday night, and the next day, there it is. That process is at the heart of Laura Frankel’s Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes, an updated paperback edition of a book the former Shallots Bistro chef and current chef at Wolfgang Puck’s Kosher Catering at the Spertus Institute published in 2009.  

While it isn’t all about the hamin, or Sabbath stew, she includes two recipes for a traditional Shabbat feast. First there’s the more familiar eastern-European beef, bean, and potato cholent, typically served with kishke. And then the much more elaborate Morrocan dafina, a saffron-scented brisket stew with chickpeas, potatoes, dates, and whole eggs all redolent of anise, fenugreek, cardamom, cumin, and coriander.

According to Frankel, while most of the regional hamin—from the Spanish huevos haminados to the Yemeni yaris—incorporate whole eggs that become saturated by the beefy brew, her dafina also manages to work in chewy, nutty wheat berries, and a lamb (or beef) and rice dumpling called kouclas bi ruz. That was a lot to fit in my slow cooker, so I cooked the wheat berries separately, sauteed them in chicken fat, then simmered them in stock. Don’t be a schmuck like me and forget to heed Frankel’s instruction to top off the whole thing with water, lest the brisket dry out.

Frankel’s book isn’t all about hamin, however. Mostly it’s a very practical collection of slow cookery for busy working lifestyles with recipes for everything from vegetarian chili, to meatloaf, to wild mushroom stroganoff, to Thai-style fish wrapped in banana leaves with jasmine rice. 

And of course, you don’t need to reserve the dafina for Shabbat. I violated the law by preparing my dafina on a Saturday for Sunday dinner.

DafinaCredit: Mike Sula

Laura Frankel’s dafina

Makes 12 servings

Dafina is the Moroccan equivalent of cholent. This dish is meant to be eaten on Shabbat afternoon, served hot. The name means “covered” and refers to either the cooking vessel it is prepared in or the technique of burying an accompanying wheat-based dish in the stew while it cooks. I have included two variations for authentic Moroccan dafina. Some families use an accompanying side dish of toasted wheat berries and others swear by a hearty, fragrant rice dumpling called kouclas bi ruz. After many trials and tastings, it is unanimous in my house: we love both, for different reasons. I suggest you experiment in your own home and see which version wins over the crowd. Both are delicious.

My friend Marc Botbol says his family passes ground toasted cumin to sprinkle on top of the dafina.

For the dafina
1 pound veal marrow bones (optional)
Olive oil
1 large Spanish onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon saffron threads
4 garlic cloves, chopped
3 pounds brisket or chuck roast, cut into 3 x 5-inch chunks
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups dried chick peas, sorted through, soaked overnight, and drained
12 small new potatoes, peeled
3 tablespoons Moroccan Spice Mix (see below)
8 pitted dates
8 large eggs in their shells
2 cups essential chicken stock

For the wheat berries
Olive oil
1 large Spanish onion, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 cup basmati rice, rinsed
½ cup wheat berries, rinsed
3 cups essential chicken stock

For the kouclas bi ruz
Moroccan rice dumpling 

½ pound ground beef or lamb
¾ cup ground walnuts or unblanched
¼ cup sugar
½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 large eggs, whisked lightly
1 cup uncooked basmati rice, preferably brown basmati
1 tablespoon Moroccan Spice Mix
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Suggested garnish 
Ground toasted cumin (optional)

1. Make the dafina. If using the marrow bones, preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Rub the bones with olive oil and place them in a roasting pan. Roast the bones for 45 minutes until they are very dark brown but not black. Transfer the bones to the slow cooker insert.

2. Preheat a 6½-quart slow cooker to low.

3. Place a large saut pan over medium heat. Lightly coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil.

4. Add the onion and saffron and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is brown and  very soft, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for several minutes until the garlic is  very fragrant and has softened slightly. Transfer the onion and garlic to the slow cooker  insert.

5. Season the meat with salt and pepper. Add a little more oil to the saute pan and brown the meat in batches on all sides, five to seven minutes. Transfer the meat to the insert. Add the chick peas, potatoes, spice mix, and dates to the insert. Stir with a large spoon to combine. Gently bury the eggs in the mixture.

6. Make the wheat berries. Place a clean saute pan over medium heat. Lightly coat the  bottom of the pan with olive oil. Add the onion and saute until the onion is translucent and softened. Add the garlic, rice, and wheat berries. Continue cooking until the rice has turned a golden brown, three to five minutes.

7. My friend Isaac Elkayam says to enclose the wheat mixture in a piece of foil that has been poked with small holes. Bury the foil into the dafina with the top of the foil packet still exposed. Or, like Coty Finegold, place the wheat mixture in an earthenware cup and bury the cup only enough so you can pull it out.

8. Add the chicken stock to the dafina mixture. Add water to barely cover.

9. Make the kouclas. Mix the ground meat, ground nuts, sugar, parsley, whisked eggs, rice, spice mix, salt, and pepper together in a large bowl. Knead the mixture to get a smooth texture.

10. Cut a large piece of cheesecloth. Place the mixture in the cheesecloth. Roll the mixture into a sausage shape about 1½ x 10 inches. Tie the ends with kitchen twine. Place the dumpling on top of the dafina.

11. Cover and cook on low for 15 hours.

12. Serve the dafina. Carefully remove the kouclas. Unwrap it, cut into chunks, and  place it on a platter. Remove the wheat mixture and place it in a serving bowl or on the platter next to the kouclas. Remove the eggs and place them in a separate bowl or on the platter. Spoon the dafina into another bowl or onto the platter. Place the marrow bones, if using, in another bowl or on the platter. Each person can customize her or his own plate.

Pass the ground cumin, if using.

Marc Botbol and his family make the wheat berries separately as he learned the technique from his mother who is from Casablanca and always made it that way.

Olive oil
1 small Spanish onion, diced
1 garlic clove, diced
1 cup wheat berries, rinsed
3 cups Essential Chicken Stock (page 207) or water
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Place a small saute pan over medium heat. Lightly coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil. Saute the onion until it is lightly browned and softened, about ten minutes. Add the garlic and continue cooking until the garlic is very fragrant and has softened slightly, about two minutes.

3. Transfer the onion mixture to a medium ovenproof casserole. Stir in the wheat berries and chicken stock. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook overnight, until the wheat berries are soft but still chewy.

Moroccan spice mix

Two two-inch cinnamon sticks, broken into pieces
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon chili flakes
½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
½ teaspoon anise seeds
Seeds from one cardamom pod
1 teaspoon dark brown sugar (optional)

Place the cinnamon, coriander, cumin, chili flakes, anise, and cardamom seeds in a spice grinder and process until completely ground. If using the brown sugar, transfer the mixture to a small bowl and stir in the sugar. Store in a tightly covered container away from the light for up to three months.

Reprinted with permission from Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes by Laura Frankel, Agate Surrey, 2015.