Cholent, that much venerated long-cooked stew is served on Shabbos (Sabbath), after the morning prayers. We don’t do any cooking on Shabbos, but eating a hot meal to honor the day is very important. That’s why every Jewish family, from Yemen to Iran to Turkey to France, has a type of lamb, beef or chicken dish, kept piping hot overnight. Jews from Yiddish-speaking backgrounds call this stew “Cholent”.
In all honesty, except perhaps when the weather is Siberian, I am not a Cholent-lover. (My preference is for a vegetarian cholent). Still, we have plenty of guests who enjoy the standard recipe and are even willing to eat the leftovers.
But there are different versions of cholent. I’ve prepared many recipes including my neighbor Yanna’s Bukharian Ussvo (aka Osh Svo), with lamb, apples, cranberries, and rice (very rich). I’ve also tried recipes for Moroccan Hamim, Tunisian Dafina, Persian (Iranian) Cholent, for which I was never given the name, Iraqi Tabeet, and even a few others.
To this day the only Cholent I every really liked was my grandfather’s. He’d make it with flanken-beef, potatoes, lima beans, and barley and bake it in the oven overnight. I recall only eating the lima beans.
Cholent is not a delicate dish. It is a hearty, hefty, zaftig dish seemingly designed to fuel an afternoon spent learning Torah, enjoying company, or if you are so inclined, napping. Especially because of the long cooking time, cholent is a fortifying and heating food, whether or not it contains meat. I think small, even tiny, servings are best but plenty of people (especially men) disagree with me.
Many of the mystics and sages were vegetarian during the week. Many also fasted on weekdays, especially Mondays and Thursdays. But on Shabbos, everyone ate. Even if we take a bite or two, we are forbidden to fast on Shabbos. We’re taught that this day the spiritual essence of our physical pleasures (such as eating) are able to be refined, released and elevated from their earth-bound vessels.
Much has been written on the large variety of hot meals and the origin of the name Cholent (you can Google it yourself). But I want to get right down to cases. Here is what we now call Bob’s Friday Afternoon Cholent after my husband’s brother, Bob, who seriously enjoyed a bowl of it one Friday afternoon. Then, we put it back on the stove and kept it hot overnight—by meal time the next day, the flavors melded and the kitchen smelled wonderful.
A pre-recipe message to HJC readers: Would you like to usher in the New Year with extra sweetness and light? A monumental effort has been completed and now is awaiting printing. If you would like the merit of participating in the printing of the final volume of the first comprehensive English translation of Rebbe Nachman’s life-changing, world-changing work, Likutei Moharan, or if you would like to learn more about the beauty and joy of Breslov Chassidus, please visit the Breslov Research Institute and watch this video with Chaim Kramer.
Bob’s Friday Afternoon Cholent by HJC
Note: All beans and grains should be checked for small stones and in many cases, insect infestation
1 large, yellow onion, diced
2-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon of organic canola or your favorite extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 pound or more kosher middle chuck, flanken, or other beef (free-range, grass-grazed, organic kosher beef is available in stores and online)
1 1/2 cups dried cranberry beans (also called Romano beans) or Anasazi beans, washed and soaked for several hours or overnight
1/3 cup any size dried lima beans, rinsed, optional
1/4 cup pearled barley (Arrowhead Mills is a good choice), rinsed
1 heaping tablespoon tomato paste, optional
Unrefined/Celtic sea salt
Hungarian or Spanish Paprika, 2 teaspoons or to taste
2 teaspoons Mrs. Dash original or garlic salt-free seasoning (my husband’s addition)
2 large washed and scrubbed medium organic potatoes, golden, white or Idaho, cut in chunks or slices and/or sweet potatoes. If the potatoes are organic and very clean, we don’t peel them.
In a heavy-bottomed 2 quart pot sauté onions in just enough oil as needed (as little as two teaspoons can work) over very low temperature until slightly caramelized.
Healthy Tip: Time can replace heat when you want to heighten flavor. Oils breakdown and become less healthful when heated at high-temperatures (or for very long periods of time). Use as little oil as possible in long-cooked dishes like cholent.
Add the beef and brown on all sides. Add the garlic, beans, barley, and tomato paste if using, and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, turn flame down to low and simmer uncovered for one hour. Add remaining seasonings, and cook for two hours more. Taste and correct seasoning, adding more water if necessary, making cholent as thick or as thin as you like. Husband likes it “goopy”. Add either chunks or slices of potato, which can be layered on top or pushed into the cholent. If you wish, you can drizzle olive oil on top to add additional flavor and keep the potatoes and other ingredients near the top of the pan, moist. Cover and cook overnight or at least for another hour. Serves 6-8.
Variation: If I had my druthers, I’d do as I used to: Omit the beef and the Mrs. Dash, and add a blend of cumin, ground coriander, and ancho chile powder, to taste. Use Anasazi beans or black beans in place of cranberry beans. Omit barley, add a handful of dried posole that’s been soaked for a few hours in room temperature water.
More about cholent: StarK