Cholent is the archetypical Shabbos stew, the Jewish answer to the French cassoulet except that cholent is cooked over night in a crock pot or on a covered stove, known in Yiddish as a blech. Yes blech is really a word. Speaking of words no one knows the origin of the word cholent. Some scholars say that it may derive from the French word “chaud’ meaning hot . Others trace it to the Hebrew word, “she talin” meaning “and it shall rest ‘referring to the stews lengthy cooking period . There are even those who claim that cholent is a ontraction of the words ”shul ends” referring to the end of the prayer service. While the first two theories have some veracity, the last is a popular misconception.
Regardless of it’s etymology,cholent and its Sephardic equivalent Hamin are integral to the Jewish day of rest. What better way to solve the potentially intractable problem of providing hot food (to honor the Sabbath) when the Sabbath laws prohibit cooking. Since the cholent begins to cook before the Shabbos begins –the stew is left to simmer on Friday afternoon, the Rabbis hold that this form of cooking doesn’t violate Jewish law. The Karaites, a Jewish heretical group who took a misguided literalist stance objected to this supposed loophole and took their Shabbos meals cold. To show them wrong, the Rabbis made a point of eating their cholent piping hot which remains our practice.
Before home ovens were common, shtetl dwellers left their cholent pots at the local bakery on Friday afternoon and picked them up on Shabbos day just before lunch. As those old time ovens were quirky, the cholent’s homecoming was a moment of high drama. No one knew for sure whether the cholent which was left untouched in the oven would even be edible. Though some families brought home cholent tasting of charcoal most old timers recall our delicious the stew was, flavored with the special taste of Shabbos.
In my experience the cholent comes out the best when we have guests . Hostting guests is a mitzva and cholent is made for crowds Not only is it easy to make, but it can easily be doubled tripled or even quadrupled . Since it’s full of whole grains and legumes it is even healthy.
While most people eat cholent on Shabbos my mother always served it at her cousins’ club meetings on Sunday afternoons. The cousins most of whom no longer prepared the stew in their own homes reveled in this much loved taste from their childhoods.
Recently many Orthodox young men have taken to eating cholent on Thursday night . Though some mystics warn that this pre Shabbos sampling could have adverse consequences (not just digestive , but also memory loss)certain eateries in Brooklyn, Lakewood, Jerusalem and Bnai Brak do a roaring trade in the stuff. Of course these very same people will have cholent again on Shabbos morning. For some reason Thursday night cholent is a male rite favored by yeshiva students and young chassidim.I have yet to see a women or a person over thirty tuck in.
There are as many ways to make cholent as there are Jews . This is my family’s recipe, originally developed by my teen aged sons and adapted by my husband. Enjoy.
Soak one cup of barley, one cup of white and dark red beans and one cup of “bobes” beans (broad beans) in water, 12-24 hours before preparation of the chulent.
2. Defrost the chulent meat (about 2 lbs or one kilo. Meat on the bone is best)
3. Chop 4 large onions, fine
4. Heat up 2 tablespoons of canola oil in large, heavy pot
5. Fry the onions for 10 minutes
6. Cut the meat into large blocks and add to pot and mix with onions
7. Continue on low flame for 10 minutes
8. Add half a large can of tomato paste (2 cups) and stir
9. Continue on low flame for 10 minutes
10. Add water to cover meat
11. Wait to boil
12. Add spices, 1 teaspoon of each ingredient: salt, black pepper, turmeric, cumin, sweet paprika, curry powder, hot paprika, sweet chili,
13. Add 1-3 tablespoons of soup powder and 1 to 3 tablespoons of ketchup depending on your taste (or lack of it)
14. Add the barley and beans
14. Peel 4 to 6 potatoes, cut into large cubes, and throw into pot. Add water. The water level should stand about two inches (4 cm) above the ingredients. Remember that this is a stew, not a soup . Too little water will cause the cholent to burn .
15. Cook on low heat overnight
16. Consume in well-ventilated area