A typical cholent contains various beans, water, potatoes, barley, onions and meat. People enhance the dish with kishke, stuffed derma, baked vegetarian beans, ketchup, soy sauce, onion soup mix, spices of all sorts and even honey and sausage. Whether one uses a slow-cooking pot or keeps the pot on a slight flame on the stove top or in the oven, cholent will fill the home with an incredible, wonderfully pleasing aroma.
Choice of meats include flanken, cheek meat, chuck, lamb and lamb necks, sausage, pastrami, corned beef, turkey and turkey necks or any variety or cut of chicken.
Most people add beans. One can choose from a variety of dry beans, including white, pink, pinto, kidney, black, navy, cranberry, lima, lentils or garbanzo. One can also use canned beans.
Spicing up the cholent is loads of fun. Many people use heavy spices or sauces to add flavor. These can include onion and garlic powder, salt, paprika, pepper, ketchup, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, barbecue sauce and even beer. Again, all ingredients need to be added and heated before Shabbat.
The Cooking Process
For slow-cookers, and to cut out cleaning the pot, you can buy plastic liners or bags to keep the pot clean. Just make sure you put a little water under the liner before lining the pot.
Slow cookers with inserts are halachically preferred because the insert comes out of the heating unit. Since one must keep putting his or her serving spoon into the pot multiple times to serve the cholent, not being on the heat makes it halachically permissible (otherwise it would be considered cooking).
Before Shabbat, check that there is enough water in the cholent as more will be absorbed overnight. If barley is used, it absorbs a great deal of water. One tip is to place the kishke in foil to keep it from breaking apart. If before Shabbat the cholent slow cooker was turned to high, turn it down to medium or low to let it simmer.
Many people use timers that will shut off the slow cooker at serving time, around noon or 1 p.m. on Shabbat day.
If the cholent pot or pan is put on the stove or in the oven, spray it with Pam or another calorie-free greasing spray. This will make cleanup a great deal easier.
To serve the cholent, most people use a deep bowl and a large serving spoon.
Cholent in Jewish Baltimore … And in Israel
Around town, on Thursday nights, O’Fishel Catering at Shomrei Emunah Congregation or the Knish Shop are known to serve their gourmet cholents. It’s “a guy thing,” and men enjoy the delicacy earlier than the Sabbath — during Thursday night learning sessions at some local shuls.
In the Geulah neighborhood of Jerusalem, Hadar Geulah, a kosher take-out and tiny restaurant, makes a vegetarian cholent. This is a well-known cholent, and visitors report that one can hardly tell it’s meatless.
Hadar Geulah serves cholent all week long. Lines of yeshiva boys and Jerusalem residents partake nearly every day. The restaurant also makes unbelievable kugels (potato, sweet noodle and Yerushalmi) and one packaged dairy item (take-out only) — the undisputed best cheese blintzes in the world. If you haven’t been there you don’t know what you are missing.
The Final Touch — Heimishe
While there are few rules to cholent, the one thing all agree upon is that it has to be heimishe. Add whatever you like, just keep it with a strong Jewish aroma and taste.
Heimishe doesn’t have an exact translation. It just means “super friendly” or “warm.” It’s the feeling of Bubbie or “Yiddishe Mama.” It’s the taste of homemade cooking in a Jewish home.
On Shabbat day, Jews around the world gather around festive dining room tables. They make <em<Kiddush on a glass of wine and ha’motzi on the challah. They may even dip gefilte fish in horseradish or enjoy a bowl of matzo ball soup.
That is the start of heimishe. To really be heimishe, though, one has to serve the cholent!
Eli W. Schlossberg is an area freelance writer and the author of “The World of Orthodox Judaism” (Jason Aronson, 1996). He is working on a new book, “My Shtetel Baltimore,” to be released in 2014.