CHOLENT THEN AND NOW...This sounds like Brazilian feijoada minus the bacon .

Cholent is the most ancient and best-preserved of all traditional Jewish foods. It survived for several thousand years, dating back to times when Jews buried the cholent in hot embers in cooking pottery and let the flavors slowly meld and marry overnight for the Sabbath meal.

Old Jewish tradition calls for a brisk, long walk or an extended snooze after a cholent meal the combination of beans, potatoes, barley and meat add a heavy burden on the smoothest-functioning digestive system. Both bean and barley break down slowly in the stomach and if you had a good size meat as well, you are likely to suffer. The secret? Eat small portions. A good cholent can turn irresistible but you must defy large servings or seconds.

People who eat beans regularly develop digestive enzymes and resident bacteria to break down the tough legumes but those that eat it infrequently suffer. What causes the problem are some starches in legumes for which our guts don't have microorganisms and enzymes for complete breakdown. You can attack the problem with a commercial product called Beano. It is an enzyme that breaks down the problem starches completely in your digestion. It works for most people but not for all. In 1995, research at the University of California at San Diego showed that Beano reduces "flatulent events" in most stomachs by about a quarter. Too bad, but Beano is only available in United States pharmacies. It also helps to eat legumes often to establish the friendly little bacteria.

The cholent ritual always started with the eggs. Each of us fished out one of the whole eggs my mother often buried shell and all in the bean-barley cholent to bake very slowly in that heady stew. Those heavenly ritual eggs were our first course, with their shells that had turned the color of a New York water bagel, and the egg white within tinted light caramel beige. The flavors and color pigments of the cholent had penetrated the egg shells over the slow overnight baking creating hard-cooked eggs with a complex, truly delicious flavor nothing like your average hard-boiled egg. We peeled and ate them as is it needed nothing to embellish, not even salt.

CHOLENT

Here is a traditional cholent updated to reflect today' more sophisticated taste and using easily available ingredients.

* 1 ¼ cups dry mixed beans
* 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
* 200 g (8 oz or one large) onion, coarsely chopped
* 3 cloves garlic, minced
* 1 ½ Tbsp Hungarian paprika
* 1 ½ tsp salt
* 1 ½ tsp pepper
* ¾ cup barley
* 1 ½ lb (700 g) potatoes, peeled, cut into large chunks
* 1 chunk (about ½ kg or 1 lb) beef brisket
* 1 smoked beef bone or marrow bone
* 6 eggs in shell, washed

1. . You may use one kind of beans or mix several kinds. For eye-appeal, I like to mix small white navy beans and large red kidney beans or black beans. Rinse beans then soak for 5 to 8 hours in enough water to have three finger-deep water over top of beans. When soaked, drain.
2. Heat oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat and sauté onion until transparent. Add garlic, stir for several minutes over heat then add paprika, salt and pepper, and continue to cook for a minute. Remove from heat.
3. Combine beans, onion mixture, barley, potatoes, brisket and bone in a large baking dish or dutch oven with a tightly-fitting lid. Carefully slip in raw unshelled eggs and bury them under cholent mix. Add water to cover.
4. Place tightly covered pot in oven (seal lid with aluminum foil if not absolutely tight) and bake at 100 degrees C (200 degrees F) for at least 6 hours and up to 18 hours. Check liquid level occasionally to prevent cholent from drying out and replenish if needed.

When ready to serve, dig out eggs, shell them and serve in quarters as first course with fresh raw vegetables or crackers. Remove brisket and slice. Serve brisket and cholent family style on serving dish. The best accompaniment with cholent is an assortment of good pickles and sauerkraut. Yields 6 to 7 generous servings.