The Ubiquitous Cholent

For observant Jews, Shabbat is a day of complete rest. No work at all can be done. No physical work, no driving, no shopping, no writing or computer use, not even turning on or off electricity and NO COOKING! All work must be completed sundown Friday (through nightfall Saturday). Shabbat is a day for prayer, family, visiting neighboring friends, and relaxation. It’s a necessary unplugging from the frenetic pace of the week.

There is a traditional Sabbath dish in the Jewish culture. A mainstay. It’s ubiquitous here in Israel. Called cholent ( pronounced CHO lent, SHOW lent, or shoont), it is a hearty thick cross between stew and chili that is prepared on Friday and cooks in a crock pot or on a hot plate through Saturday. Especially great on a cold winter day, it has as many different variations as there are cooks. It was birthed from necessity over hundreds of years and encompasses all the different Jewish cultures of the world – made with different ingredients: meats, veggies ,spices, beans, grains – based on the tastes and availability of products in that part of the world. I’ve had the “typical” Ashkenaz cholent as well as the Sephardic, Yemenite, and North African versions, called chamin (kha MEEN), which translates to “hot” in Hebrew.

The basic ingredients for cholent are cubed stew meat, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, spices, whole eggs (really!!!), vegetables and sometimes grains like barley or cosemet (bulgar or buckwheat groats). The meat is seared first, the rest of the ingredients are added, brought to a boil, and then set on a slow simmer (crock pots are great for this) for the duration of Shabbat.

The hard boiled eggs can be fished out and eaten at breakfast; the stew makes a stick-to-the-ribs midday meal, and any leftovers are scooped up with bread; stuffed into pita; and served with accompanying cold salads, olives, pickles and other mezze.

The “guys” love cholent with the addition of a can of beer or a cup of whiskey, which cooks out leaving flavor. It can be dressed up with a dry red wine, but mostly it’s made alcohol free.

This is a very creative dish. Basically it uses the meat and red kidney beans or brown beans. The Spanish and Mexican style uses black beans. Middle Eastern versions use chickpeas and turkey or chicken thighs for the meat. For the Eastern European, white potato chunks are added. The Yemenite and South African style uses sweet potatoes. Always, lots of onion chunks and garlic cloves are thrown in. Some people put in cut up carrots, celery, turnips, tomatoes, even peas. And…. it can be made vegan without the meat.

So, without further ado here are some basic recipes:

Basic Ashkenazi Cholent. Serves 6

Ingredients:

1kg/2.2lbs Beef short ribs or stew meat. 1 onion cut into large chunks. 8 pieces garlic. 1/3 cup northern white beans. 1/3 cup red kidney beans. 1/2 kg/1lb. large chunks unpeeled red potatoes 3/4 cup pearl barley. 3/4 cups beef broth. 6 whole eggs. 2Tbsp honey. 2 tsp paprika. 1 tsp each salt & pepper

Sear meat on high heat in skillet. Add to bottom of crockpot and dump all the additional ingredients on top. Cover and bring to a boil on high setting 1-2 hours. Then set dial to low. Keep covered 12-18 hours. Can add more liquid ( can of chopped tomatoes with liquid) if it looks too thick or dry. Also, when in the US I added a frozen vegetarian kishke chub which, for us, puts the dish over the top! It’s something I can only find at Mehane Yehuda in Yerushalayim here in Israel.

Yemenite Chamin

Ingredients:

1 kg/2.2 lb chicken things, skin on. 1 red/purple onion cut in chunks. 6 cloves garlic. 3 large sweet potatoes, cut into large pieces. 3 carrots, cut up. 2 dates, pitted. 1/2 cup apricots. 1/4 cup raisins. 3 cups chickpeas. 6-12 eggs, whole. 2 tsp turmeric (curcum). 1/2 tsp allspice. 1/2 tsp cumin. 1/2 tsp cinnamon. 1 tsp salt. 1 quart/1liter chicken broth

Brown the salted and peppered chicken thighs in a skillet until golden. Transfer to crockpot and add all other ingredients. Stir well and cover. Heat on high 1-3 hours then set to low 12-18 hours.

MexiCholent

1/2 kg/1 lb ground meat, browned. 1 onion, chopped large. 6 garlic cloves. *optional 1-4 jalapeño, chopped 1 cup black beans or frijoles. 1 cup rice. 2 cans (425 ml) chopped tomatoes with sauce. 1 can corn with liquid. 1cup water. 6 whole eggs. 1 bunch chopped cilantro (cuzbara). 1 1/2 tsp cumin. 4 drops Tabasco. 1/2 tsp chili powder. 1 tsp each salt & pepper. 1/2 tsp. Sugar

Add all ingredients to crock pot. Set to high 2 hours, then turn to lowest setting for 12-18 hours. Can add water if needed, but try to keep covered

Veggiecholent

Ingredients:

2yellow onions, cubed. 1 red/purple onion, cubed. 6 garlic cloves. 3 large zucchini cut in very large chunks. 6 carrots cut in large pieces. 1 pack brown mushroom, sliced thickly. 3 stalks celery, cut large. 2 cans chopped tomatoes with juice. 2 cans white cannellini beans, Lima beans or northern whites. 1/2 kg/ 1 lb red potatoes, cubed. 1 cup grain (barley, couscous, brown rice) 6 eggs(omit if vegan). 2 tsp dried thyme. 1 large bay leaf. 1 bunch parsley, chopped. 1tsp each salt & pepper 1 1/2 cups water

Add all to large crockpot. Allow to come to boil on high heat 15 minutes, stirring well. Switch to lowest simmer 12-18 hours.

As stated previously, there are many variations. Start with the basics, then be creative. But most of all enjoy! B’tayamim!!

7 thoughts on “The Ubiquitous Cholent

    • Yup. It’s soooo yummy! Check Internet for many different variations. A B’nei Menashe friend from India makes the most amazing curried Chamim. She uses lamb and veggies and really exotic spices. I understand the Ethiopians (Batei Yisrael) make a tasty, spicy version that also uses greens!

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  1. You never cease to amaze me, Miss Tamar… you are an incredible woman. You are an inspiration to many, more power to you. I truly miss you.
    Love, hugs and prayers

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  2. Tamar,

    But I am confused, So do you have to eat this soup cold on Shabbat or you are allowed to keep the Crock Pot plugged in as long as you made the soup the day before? Are you not allowed to turn on the lights or use your blow dryer, basic appliances during Shabbat? I would love it if you could blog on this. Just how strict is the no electricity ban for the Shabbat? I would love to learn about this and maybe how the rules in Israeli culture Shabbat compare with those in the US Jewish Sabbath.

    The soups look delish! I LOVE hard boiled eggs in soup, but then that is totally common in Japanese culture (think Ramen and Udon!) ☺

    Love,
    B
    xx

    Barbara Akimoto
    Administrative Specialist-Educational Services
    Before and After School Programs; GATE
    Chico Unified School District
    bakimoto@chicousd.org
    (530) 891-3000 x173
    1163 E. 7th Street
    Chico, CA 95928

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    • Really not a soup at all. More like a thick stew that is started before sunset on Friday and left in a crockpot or a platta to keep warm/hot all through the Sabbath. The eggs get fished out hard boiled, peeled, eaten separately or with the stew or put into a sandwich….

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