Tuesday, November 28, 2006

cholent 101

this traditional sabbath dish is always eaten on saturday afternoons most typically upon return from synagogue sometime around the noon hour. it is a centuries old tradition with great history and lore around it. for those who have never had it, cholents are, in essence, long and slowly cooked stews. they fall into a group of dishes known as hamim/hamin; loosely translated it means hot & long cooked. it is cousins with other dishes such as the moroccan [a]dafina, greek & turkish hamin & iraqi t'beet.

all of these are started on thursday night and prepared early friday afternoon before the sabbath begins to be later set in an oven or on a blech or plata to cook at very low heat. this will cook from just before sunset and will be taken out some time on saturday, depending on the family's tradition. many times eggs are added, cooked all night and eaten at breakfast. these are called huevos haminados [eggs roasted in the hamin]; they become nutty brown inside and are really delicious in spite of what you may think of cooking an egg for all those hours. in modern times, people also cook cholent in the crockpot set on low.

what goes into cholents is entirely up to the cook. the main stars of the show however in an ashkenazi type cholent could not be humbler — some type of meat which will stand up to long hours of cooking [usually tougher pieces of meat], potatoes, beans & lentils of all sorts, seasonings as simple as salt & pepper and spices. all this is topped off with water.

there are as many variations as there are cooks. this may also be made the vegetarian way, omitting all meat. many families have their own special cholent handed down and changed here and there over the generations — families boasting theirs "is the one" to eat.

cholent, plain & simple askhenazi style

note: this can be made vegetarian by replacing the meat with seitan and/or tofu or just using the beans and vegetables. if adding more vegetables, use ones that will stand up to long hours of cooking and will not degrade in flavour or become bitter such as regular or sweet potatoes and carrots [basically, root vegetables].


1/3 c. beans [mixture of navy/pea beans, kidney & pinto]
1/4 c. lentils [small brown ones]
1/4 c. pearl barley
2 tbsp baby lima beans

4 - 6 small potatoes, reds (ones which won't fall apart)

2 onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 - 2 lbs flanken/short ribs
3 - 4 marrow bones

1 tbsp salt
2 1/2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder

water to cover


soak beans overnight [i wouldn't use/trust quick soak method here]. overnight is best.

measure out and arrange your mise en place for all ingredients.

as with all jewish recipes, fry your onions and garlic in a little oil until lightly browned. do not overcook these. set aside on a plate. i push mine aside but it takes experience and you may end up burning them so on a plate is best.

add the meat and brown it along with the marrow bones.

i also use extra firm tofu, so add these in whichever cut you wish and brown it also. sounds strange but it acts as an extra protein.

re-add the onions and garlic to the meat and then add the rinsed and drained beans, the potatoes [peeled and quartered], the lentils and spices.

add enough water to almost come to the top. do not add to much. cook this for 1 1/2 to 2 hrs on minimum temperature on top of the stove or in a medium-low oven at 300 F.

after 2 hours, add more water as necessary if it has evaporated or been completely absorbed. it should be fine. this is how it will look:

while this is cooking for the two hours, make your vegetable kishka. do this before you will put the cholent in the oven. you may prebake it for about a 1/2 hour to set it if you can't do it right beforehand.

vegetarian kishke — קישקע
recipe from spice & spirit cookbook

kishka is another old world ashkenazi item that is added to cholents as an added starch and way of extending the meal. kishka is basically {gulp} stuffed derma or intestine. well, folks, no intestines used here. only tin foil. the stuffing is composed of flour, oil, a few ground vegetables and a few spices & seasonings. it is usually served with a gravy. there is a version called hel(t)zel, where the skin of necks of chickens are sew together to make a pocket of sorts and stuffed with a similar flour mixture. sometimes the stuffing is enclosed and tied in a cheesecloth/gauze; the mixture then absorbs the flavours and sauces from the cholent during its long and slow cooking.


1/2 c oil
2 stalks celery, cut in 2" pieces
2 medium carrots, cut in 2" pieces
1 medium large onion, quartered
1 1/2 c AP flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp paprika
pepper, to taste

tin foil, to wrap kishke
food processor or blender


cut up the vegetables and measure out spices and flour.

in a large bowl, place the flour and spices and mix well to blend.

in the blender or processor, add the vegetables and oil and process until you have a paste.

transfer the paste to the flour mixture and mix well with a spatula until well blended.

measure out a piece of tin foil about the length of your fingertips to your elbow. do this twice.

put one piece of tinfoil on a counter making sure you are looking at it from a widthwise perspective and not a lengthwise one. about 4 inches up from the long edge, place the mixture and form a fat sausage type shape. make sure it's even. tuck in the sides and roll up. do this again to make sure it is well enclosed. i usually place it seam side down when doing the second rolling and use a heavy duty bbq type foil.

add the kisha on top and return this to the oven right before the beginning of the sabbath and cook until the next day at 200 F. depending upon the time of the year when this is made, it may cook for up to well past 12 hours. don't frett, it will be fine. the temperature is low. the custom however, for religious reasons concerning the laws of cooking [or should i say, not cooking] on the sabbath, is NOT to stir or add anything to it, save a cup of already hot water should it be drying out. this is poured on top and not stirred or agitated. the kishke roll can also be cooked alone with the cholent in the oven at 350F for 1 to 1 1/2 hrs. i usually go for the longer time.

by the end of the cooking time, it will have thickened. depending on your tastes, some people like it soupy and some like a thick mass. i prefer mine more soupy and take this into account when adding water. this has long been a matter of contention amongst cholent eaters!

here are two photos of what it will look like at different stages of cooking [i made this on a wedn/thurs to show you].

this is served when families return from synagogue saturday, around noon/1 pm. when made properly, it really is very, very good in spite of it's bad rap from those who either don't like it or have had bad ones.

it can also be made in a slow cooker as is often done however much less water is used due to the way a slow cooker works. i had disasters in the beginning by adding to much water and ended up with soup! it also dilutes the taste.

this is best made and eaten during the colder autumn and winter months. my favourite part of all is extracting the delicious marrow.

remember, the cholent can be made totally vegetarian too by using only seitan and/or tofu. the taste will obviously be different yet still very good.

here, again, is the finished dish with the marrow & kishke:


note: this post is still in the works. i will be adding extra information about this dish and links to interesting information, history and lore regarding it.


beenzzz said...

You're killing me. I haven't eaten dinner yet and I'm just starved. I am going to make Cholent! That's all there is to it! YUM!

burekaboy — said...

this is definitely old world type food. hearty & filling. cholent, i think, is one of those things that you either love or hate. it's basically some beans, meat and potatoes! that's it, that all!

ML said...

That looks like some seriously great food!!!! Thanks for the recipes!

burekaboy — said...

hey ml - thanks for the visit. this is really cold weather, stick to your ribs type fare. i love it when it's made properly. ;p

ByTheBay said...

what a wonderful tutorial - i'm so glad to find another Jewish food blogger!

burekaboy — said...

hey by the bay - welcome and thanks for stopping by. glad you liked the tutorial :-]

nice to meet you too! hope to see you again.

Anonymous said...

I love cholent. What is the function of the barley? I need to omit the barley because I'm gluten-free - should I just omit it or do you have other substitutions?

burekaboy — said...

hi anonymous - sorry it took so long to answer ... i got your message right before the holiday started.

in answer to your question, cholent can include anything you want. the barley is purely optional (it does add flavour and texture). just omit it and maybe add extra beans or lentils or extra vegetables. the barley also adds viscosity but that is moot, you'll be fine without it.

hope you enjoy :) cholent is one of those things people LOVE or HATE! i am posting a recipe for dafina, the moroccan version, in a few days so you may want to look at that also. it's definitely GF and safe for you to eat with the exception of one thing which you can omit.

hope that helps :) regards.

shanna said...

Gluten-fre Anon: I recommend kasha (buckwheat) in lieu of the barley.

burekaboy — said...

hi shanna - thanks for the idea. wouldn't have thought to suggest kasha as a substitute for the barley. sounds interesting.

chag same'ach :) thanks for the visit and comment.