Thanksgiving’s Coming – Time for Pilgrim Cholent

In anticipation of the Thanksgiving meal I’ll be hosting at my house, I decided to plan ahead and get some food in the freezer. My husband challenged me to make baked beans in the slow cooker. I’ve never tackled home made baked beans, after all, why turn your back on Heinz? But challenge accepted, I trolled for recipes that would work with our local ingredients. I found a suitable starting point in The Vegetarian Epicure. I had to make some adjustments for what’s available in Israel, as well as some updates to cooking methods that have taken place since the early 1970s, when the book was written. But ultimately, what emerged was a rich, flavorful, comforting vegetarian dish that has an interesting connection to the Thanksgiving story, and funnily enough, to our own traditional Shabbat cooking.

Baked beans are believed to have originally been a Native American dish of beans cooked with venison, bear fat, and maple syrup, and baked in pits lined with hot stones. This dish was adapted by the Pilgrims, whose religion forbade them from cooking cook from sundown Saturday to sundown Sunday (not unlike observant Jews on Shabbat). So slow cooked baked beans made the perfect New England Saturday night supper because the leftovers could be eaten warm the next morning for breakfast. Anyone for Pilgrim Cholent?

So not only does it turn out that this dish is as appropriate for Thanksgiving as turkey (something I didn’t know when accepting my husband’s cooking challenge), but it also draws an interesting parallel between Jewish and Pilgrim culinary observance.

Beans freeze really well, so this is a great dish to put in the freezer. I made a double batch so we could freeze our beans and eat them as well. This dish can also be baked in the oven, so I have both options in the recipe. I recommend the slow cooker as you don’t have to check it once it’s in. Serve this with rice, corn bread, couscous or just plain.

I am confident that this will be a great side dish for Thanksgiving, as it certainly fits with the Thanksgiving story and just tastes wonderful.

Baked Beans Served with Couscous



2 cups dried pinto or navy beans (any small bean will do)

4 cloves garlic

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 bay leaf

2 diced onions

4 diced carrots

2 diced red peppers

2 cloves of garlic crushed

1 tablespoon chicken soup powder

¾ cup tomato paste

1 tablespoon smooth Dijon mustard

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper or chili powder

½ cup Silan (date honey) Note: If you prefer the dish to be less sweet, use 1/3 of a cup instead. You can also use molasses, syrup or honey.

1 teaspoon dried ginger

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1/3 cup red wine or regular vinegar

Salt and black pepper to taste

How to do it

1. Soak the beans overnight in a large pot of water, where the water covers the beans generously (the beans will expand).

2. Pour the water off, rinse the beans and refill the pot with clean water so there is about 5 cm (2 inches) of water above the beans. Add 2 whole cloves of garlic, olive oil, bay leaf and salt. Bring to the boil, turn down the heat to low and simmer for an hour until the beans are softened. Drain the beans, saving the bean water for the cooking process. Discard the bay leaf.

3. Place the beans, onions, carrot and pepper into the slow cooker. Mix 1 cup of the bean water, chicken soup powder, garlic, tomato paste, mustard, cayenne pepper, Silan, ginger, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, salt and pepper. Pour over the vegetables and mix through. Cook on low heat for 8 hours.

For oven baking:

1. Pre-heat the oven to 150°C (300°F)

2. Pre-cook the beans as in steps 1 & 2 above.

3. In a large skillet, saute the onions, carrots and peppers in olive oil until they are just tender (do not overcook – they will continue to soften in the oven). Mix into the drained beans.

4. Mix 1 cup of the bean water, chicken soup powder, garlic, tomato paste, mustard, cayenne pepper, Silan, ginger, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, salt and pepper and pour over the beans and vegetables, mixing well. Place in a large, heavy casserole dish and cover tightly. Bake in the oven for 7-8 hours, checking to make sure the beans aren’t drying out. If they are, add some of the bean broth to moisten.

Serves 10-12 as a side dish. Service with rice, corn bread or couscous.