Dafina

There is so much that can be written about dafina. For those of you who don’t know, Jews are  forbidden to touch electricity/fire on Shabbat. Shabbat starts from Friday night sundown, to Saturday night sundown. This means that the Saturday (or Shabbat day) meal must be prepared in advance. Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews have each their traditional Shabbat day meals. The Sephardics call theirs dafina and the Ashkenazis call theirs cholent. They have some similarities in the ingredients they use, but they are very different in taste.

Dafina is a bit of a mystical dish in our culture. It is a slow cooked meal that comprises of meat, beans, eggs, potatoes, sweet potatoes and sometimes onions. There are many different varieties unique to each family. The commonality between each variation is that it is always eaten on shabbat day and it is always prepared in advance (Friday during the day) and cooked overnight. Some families don’t believe in putting any spices in their dafina. Not to knock another family, but mine don’t believe in that at all. In fact, the medley of spices found in our dafina is what makes ours a popular one. After synagogue on Saturday morning, there is usually a procession of people who happened to “stop-by” and were wondering what was cooking. Obviously, dafina. Of course, everyone is always welcome. This is precisely why I always say, I cook for an army. My friends and family can attest to that. In fact, my slow cooker (the one I make my dafina in) is legendary because it is so humongous.
There are 6 secrets to my dafina:
1. I always mix veal and beef.
2. I always use meat on the bone. Slow cooked meat without the bone tends to dry up and I absolutely despise that. I have no tolerance for dry meat. Yes, I will calm down now…
3. I season my meat and before I place it in the slow cooker, I braise the meat on the stovetop to pull out all the best flavour in the cut.
4. I cook the rice separately, then I add it last in the mesh cooking bags in the slow cooker.
5. I make a lot of sauce. I also absolutely hate dry dafina. There should always be plenty of sauce to wet the rice, wheat and meat. The more sauce, the better. Especially when you lap it up with challah.
6. I cook the wheat separately in another small slow cooker. The reason for this is that if I were to put in in the mesh bag and place it onto of the meat in the dafina, the wheat tends to crisp up because it isn’t fully submerged in water. I ALSO HATE THAT.
So, there you have it folks, our dafina. It’s heavy, delicious, satisfying, warm and spicy. Perfect for a winter shabbat.
Usually people fall asleep after this meal. After all, it is the day of rest. My mom has a saying: “If only we could put dafina in a pill, we’d be rich.” In other words, we would invent the first all natural sleeping pill that actually works.
My uncle Henri also has a saying: “you know how good the dafina is by the coma it induces after”. Enjoy.
The base ingredients:
4 eggs
1 veal brisket on the bone
1 package beef stewing cubes
2 packages of beef shank bone-in
5-6 potatoes, peeled
2-3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in half
1 large can or 1 bag chickpeas
1 large can or large bag red kidney beans, or cannelloni beans, or any other beans of your choice.
1 garlic head, cleaned and cloves removed
1 small bag of white rice
1 small bag of soft wheat
2 dried chilis
canola oil
Spices: 
Paprika
ground cumin
onion powder
garlic powder
cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste
These spices will be used to season the meats and will also be used to season the base of the dafina. I didn’t put measurements on purpose. Don’t worry. This is how dafina is made. Let your nose guide you. Use a generous amount of each, just careful with the cayenne pepper.
Instructions:
Start by placing all the beans, chickpeas and garlic cloves on the bottom of the slow cooker.
Pour in 1/2 c. of canola oil.
Mix all the above spices and stir them into the beans and chickpeas. This is your base. This will be the flavour of your sauce. You can always adjust the spices to suit your tastes. Don’t be afraid. If you like a little more spicy, add more cayenne pepper. If you like more of a robust flavour, add more cumin. Play with it.
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Next, season your meat with the above ingredients. Place all the spices in a bowl and mix together. Then sprinkle it over your different meats and rub it in well.
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Heat up a frying pan on medium heat with 2 tbsp canola oil. Braise all the meats on all sides. Your meat will not cook through. It will form a delicious crust on the outside of the meat so it will caramelize in the slow cooker. I’m getting hungry….The secret to braising meat is high heat, not to crowd the pan and don’t touch the meat. If you crowd the pan or your heat is too low, the meat will release its juices and it will boil instead.
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Place braised meat over the chickpeas and beans.
Place the potatoes, sweet potatoes and onion halves around the meat.
Place the eggs delicately around. (No your eggs are not pre- cooked. )
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Now using a large measuring cup, pour some water on the side of the meat (take care not to cover the top of the meat with water as it will cause all the spices to run off) and fill up your crock pot until it reaches half way up the meat.
Set the slow cooker on low and cover. Now you will start the rice and make the wheat.
In a rice cooker or on the stovetop place rice and pour in about 2 tbsp of canola oil. mix to coat the rice. Season with salt and white pepper to taste. The add about 1 tbsp. of ground turmeric. Fill the rice cooker or the pot with water and cook.
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Once the rice is done, place it in a mesh cooking bag, tie it well, and place it over the meat in the slow cooker. Cover the slow cooker and allow dafina to continue cooking.
To make the wheat: Place wheat in another small slow cooker. Add about 2 tbsp. canola oil and coat the wheat like you did the rice. Sprinkle about 2 tbsp. paprika and 1 tsp. cayenne pepper over the wheat and mix well. Season with salt and pepper. I find the wheat needs more salt so I add a generous pinch. Mix well. Nestle the dried chills in there.
Fill the small crock pot with the wheat with water until the wheat is covered. Place on low and allow to cook with the large crock pot with the meat overnight on low until lunch the next day.
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SHABBAT SHALOM!
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