A few years ago, I wrote an article extolling that quintessential Jewish food — cholent, the one dish that is absolutely, positively Jewish.
Cholent (known as hamin or dafina or a variety of other names in the Sephardi kitchen) is a slow-cooked, flavorful stew-type dish served at the Shabbat lunch meal in traditional Jewish communities.
Here’s a short review: Because igniting a flame and scratch-cooking is not allowed on Shabbat, cholent is pre-cooked and put in the oven or on a “blech” (a piece of tin covering a gas flame on the stove top) before the start of Shabbat and left to simmer all night.
Years ago in Europe — and not too long ago in Israel — cholent pots were left overnight in the local baker’s oven; today, as often as not, they are made in crock pots or spend the night in the oven or on an electric Shabbat warming tray. The aroma just can’t be beat.
There are as many kinds of cholent as there are Jews hailing from different ethnic backgrounds. But usually, cholent contains some combination of beef or chicken, potatoes, rice or whole wheat berries, and beans or chick peas. Ashkenazi cholent often contains kishke or helzel — a sausage casing or a chicken neck skin stuffed with a flour-based mixture.
Sephardi cholents are often spiced with combinations of turmeric, cumin, and cinnamon, while Ashkenazis usually prefer salt, pepper, paprika and garlic.
Many Sephardim will add huevos haminados — whole eggs in the shell that develop a creamy texture and turn brown overnight.
Now, I don’t want to brag, but my son makes a cholent that has guests begging for more. The same recipe can be made with less oil and with lower-fat, skinless turkey or chicken.
Those sticking to a low-carb regime can add prepared vegetables in a cooking bag to the pot (we do this often).
As much as we enjoy my son’s cholent, we do like a change once in a while. So here are a couple of options along with the standard: Chicken and Israeli Couscous Cholent, Parve Cholent and a Sephardi cholent.
Whatever kind you choose, don’t forget that a Shabbat nap is de rigueur following a cholent meal. It’s distinctly a taste of the world to come.
Chicken and Israeli Couscous Cholent
“Israeli couscous” is a toasted pasta marketed by Osem. Remove chicken skin before cooking, if desired.
4 chicken legs
4 chicken thighs
2 Tbsps. and 1⁄2 cup olive oil
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
1 lb. bag Israeli couscous
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4-6 medium potatoes, coarsely sliced
Rinse chicken pieces in cold water. Heat olive oil in a large pot and brown pieces (in batches) on both sides. Remove chicken from pot and set aside.
Add 1⁄2 cup olive oil; heat. Add onions and saute slowly, stirring with a wooden spoon, until dark golden. Add couscous and continue to saute for 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add 4 cups of water. Lower heat to simmer and continue to cook for 8 minutes. Remove from heat.
Empty contents into a bowl. Let cool slightly. Rinse and dry pot; then line bottom and sides with parchment paper. Arrange potato slices on bottom. Place half of the couscous mixture atop the potatoes. Arrange chicken pieces on top and cover with remaining couscous mixture. Add half a cup of boiling water. Cover tightly.
Bake overnight at 200˚.
Serves 4 to 6.
11⁄2 cups mixed dried beans (northern, navy, kidney, black-eyed peas, etc.)
2 Tbsps. canola oil
3 large onions, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1⁄2 cup pearl barley, rinsed
salt and pepper
3 large potatoes, peeled
15 oz. tomato sauce
Put beans in large bowl and cover with cold water. Soak overnight. Drain and sort.
Heat oil in a 4-quart pot. Saute onions and garlic until onions are translucent, 5 to 7 minutes. Add barley and beans. Cover with water by at least 2 inches. Add salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook 30 minutes. Add potatoes and tomato sauce and cook for an additional 30 minutes.
Place cholent in a crock pot or in a 200° oven for eight hours or overnight.
Aryeh Leib’s Cholent (He’s My Son)
4 Tbsps. canola oil
3 medium onions, sliced
1 Tbsp. sugar
2⁄3 cup sorted, dried chick peas or navy beans, soaked overnight (you may substitute canned)
2⁄3 cup pearl barley, rinsed
1-2 tsps. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
5 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp. hot paprika
1 tsp. sweet paprika or
1 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. cumin
2 lbs. short ribs, either whole or 1-inch cubes (also known as flanken)
4 medium potatoes, cut in pieces
Heat oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. Saute onions, stirring constantly, for about 7 minutes until barely golden. Add sugar and keep stirring until onions are caramelized.
Top with beans and barley. Stir in 4 cups boiling water and salt, pepper, garlic and one of the spice options, mixing well.
Place meat on top; then arrange potatoes on top of meat. Add water to almost cover the potatoes (this is very important). Cover, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 2 hours.
Place on Shabbat warming tray or in a preheated 200˚ oven to cook overnight.
Serves 4 to 6.
Dafina Sephardi Cholent
2 lbs. beef, cut into 11⁄2-inch cubes
2 cups chickpeas, soaked overnight, rinsed and sorted
1 large onion, sliced
6 raw eggs (washed shells)
6 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
3 garlic cloves, minced
1⁄2 tsp. cinnamon
1⁄2 tsp. allspice
1⁄4 tsp. ginger
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup rinsed, uncooked rice, wrapped in cheesecloth or punctured cooking bag
Place all the ingredients except rice, in a large pot, layering according to order given. Add water to cover, plus 1-inch. Place rice in cheesecloth or cooking bag — loose enough for rice to double in volume, and tie securely. Place cheesecloth in pot below surface of water. Cover and bring to a boil.
Lower heat to simmer and continue to cook for 1 hour.
Cook on a covered stove top over very low heat overnight.
Serves 6 to 8.
Rivka Tal is a former Minnesotan who has lived in Jerusalem for the past 46 years. She is a food writer and translator. Email her at: [email protected] .