Since Biblical times the Jewish people have scattered and settled all over the globe, adapting their foods to suit the regions where they’ve settled. Over the centuries countless regional ethnic dishes have been made kosher to fit the Jewish religious standards for pure eating. This means that “Jewish food” is really world cuisine; there are very few dishes that are uniquely Jewish. Bagels? A Polish baked bread originally created for Lent and later embraced by the Jews. Gefilte fish? A German dish adopted by Yiddish cooks. But cholent– well, cholent is one of the few foods that is totally and completely Jewish.
“Throughout their wandering history, Jews have adapted their life-styles to the local culture. Food is no exception. Following the same dietary laws, Jews, relying on local ingredients, developed regional flavors. Because they have lived in so many places, there is no ‘Jewish food’ other than matzah; haroset (the Passover spread); or cholent or chamim (the Sabbath stews that surface in different forms in every land where Jews have lived).”
Cholent is uniquely Jewish. It was created because Jewish law does not permit cooking on Shabbat. To adhere to this prohibition, Jewish cooks began to create meat and bean stews in heavy pots that would slowly simmer inside a low-heat oven overnight. They would prepare the stew on Friday before sundown, cook it partially, and place it into the oven to continue cooking throughout the night. That way, there would be no need to kindle a fire or light a stove during the hours of Shabbat; they would simple remove the stew from the oven at mealtime and it would be fully cooked and ready to serve.
2 1/2 lbs large red potatoes, peeled and halved (for a smaller slow cooker, use 2 lbs)
2 whole onions, chopped
2 1/2 lbs beef stew meat or brisket, cut into chunks (for a smaller slow cooker, use 2 lbs)
2 marrow bones
1 cup dried beans – lima, pinto, chickpeas, red beans (not kidney), or a mixture
1/2 cup pearl barley or coarse-grain kasha (optional – for gluten free, do not use pearl barley)
3 whole garlic cloves
6 eggs (optional)
1/2 tsp black pepper (if spice sensitive use 1/4 tsp)
1 quart low sodium chicken broth
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp paprika
1 1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne (if spice sensitive use just a pinch)
I have used both a pot and a crock pot to make this stew and both ways it comes out amazing. Place first your potatoes at bottom of pot and then put your onions. Place the meat and marrow bones on top of the onions. Then rinse your beans to remove any impurities from them. You do not need to soak your beans for this recipe due to the length of time cooking it. If using eggs, rinse them well and then tuck them into the meat. In a 4-cup container, whisk together the low sodium chicken broth, kosher salt, paprika, turmeric, cumin and cayenne. Pour the liquid over the cholent. Add additional water until all of the beans and pieces of meat are covered. For us, it’s usually another 1-2 cups of water in our slow cooker– it will vary; I usually add a bit more liquid if using grains, because they will soak it up. Cover the slow cooker. Cook on low heat for 16 hours. Check occasionally as it’s cooking; add additional water and stir a bit if it’s looking too dry. Most cookers will auto-switch to warm when the cooking is complete. If yours doesn’t, set it to warm until ready to serve. Enjoy!
SCPO Nance Monti