Cholent – the Ultimate Shabbos Food

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Jamie Geller
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Cholent - no two are alike, not even two in the same house, made week after week in the same pot. There’s always a little something different or special about the cholent in my house.

Maybe that’s because we don’t measure. Okay, I’ll fess up. I’m using “we” very liberally, as in “we need to take out the trash.” Translation: “Hubby, the trash is overflowing and I can’t take it anymore!”

So “we don’t measure” means Hubby doesn’t measure. The famous family heirloom cholent recipe is his, or more precisely, his father’s. In the Geller house, cholent is a MAN thing, to the point that even after we were married and agreed to share everything -- from our bank account to our bathroom -- he wouldn’t reveal the secrets of his divine, hot, gem of a cholent.

Then one Friday afternoon, he wasn’t feeling 100%. His choice was to entrust the recipe to me, or live without cholent for an entire Shabbos. A no-brainer. I was pressed into service and Hubby directed me like an army general. “Potatoes and onions first on the bottom!” he thundered. “Beans and barley, now shake ‘em so they fall into the crevices!” I shook. “Meat around the sides – no, no, bones out -- bones facing out!” The pressure was so intense, I almost didn’t want to know the recipe anymore. I didn’t want to make cholent ever.

But I did. And eventually Hubby came through for me too. He gallantly measured his cholent ingredients for the sake of my cookbook. Now it’s a famous recipe and was even featured in the NY Times. (How crazy is that? They did make one change though, and Hubby will never forgive them.)

Yet no matter what I do, mine never comes out just like his. I guess it remains his job forever. I don’t want to make cholent anyway, and I also don’t wanna take out the trash. So the familiar patterns remain: we eat the famous Geller cholent, the house is clean and smells nice, and it’s all good in the Monseyhood.

Some quick & kosher cholent facts:

Cholent was invented to prove that Jews could and should eat hot food on Shabbos, even though cooking on Shabbos isn’t allowed. (Really. The challenge came from a sect called Karaites who insisted that the Shabbos laws meant that we must literally eat cold food.) Some brilliant person (probably a Geller ancestor) came up with the idea of pre-cooking a magnificent stew on Friday and keeping it hot all Shabbos.

Cholent is also known as – dafina or chamim (meaning “hot stuff”.)

Cholent staples – beans, barley, meat and potatoes.

Cholent seasoning – anything your tummy can handle. We use paprika, pepper, honey and consommé mix, and I’ve heard that people use everything from beer to peanut butter to cinnamon to eggs, to hot dogs, to pastrami, to squash to bbq sauce. Some folks even use all of those together. Anything goes!

The Great Bean Debate: There are those that soak the cholent beans overnight before they cook them, and those that say that it makes no difference. If you soak the beans overnight it reduces the cooking time – but when you are slow cooking for almost 24 hours it doesn’t really make that much difference. However, soaking them may reduce the gaseous effect of them. It also cleans a lot of the dirt off of them that mere washing might not.

A way to get around the Great Bean Debate: use canned baked beans!

Joy of Kosher.com had the coolest cooking contest -- a cholent recipe contest and the competition was fierce. The winner has been chosen and it is… drumroll… David Mitnick. This is the prize-winning recipe for his chulent – and this version is scaled down to family size!

And why shouldn’t your crockpot get a weekday workout too? Now is the time -- while it’s freezing outside (at least here in New York) – to enjoy slow-cooker recipes. This month we’ll take a look at the hearty stews, vegetarian dishes, and even some desserts -- that you can cook up in your crockpot!

Share your crockpot recipes and tips with us!