My resolution for the New Year is to make more cholent.
Cholent is the traditional Sabbath stew, assembled and put in the oven (or on the stove, or in a crock pot) on Friday before the Sabbath, then cooked at a low temperature until Sabbath lunch.
I made one this past Shabbat. We’ve been exiled from our home while it’s undergoing repairs, and we’ve been staying with my parents. My mother made many Jewish foods while I was growing up — latkes, blintzes, chicken soup — but not cholent. I could see why. In Encino, the Old Country, it never stayed cold long enough to hunger for a big pot of meat and beans. Also, we weren’t observant Jews, who don’t cook on the Sabbath. Why cook a whole stew when you can make yourself a tuna melt?
But my Brooklyn-born, observant rabbi wife craves a good cholent. Cholent is her Proustian madeleine: One bite and memories come flooding back of Camp Ramah, of her Boro Park home, even of the post-Sabbath-service cholent at Temple Beth Am. Which, to me, tastes like adobe. To her, like home.
That’s it, though: Cholent is the taste of home. Having a big pot cooking all night and day perfumes your house, whets your appetite for hours. Cholent is gastronomic foreplay. It demands that you take time on Saturday for a big meal. No errands. No Home Depot. No running off to a movie. It demands you invite friends over: No one makes a cholent for two, or even four. And it demands you slow down and relax the rest of the afternoon — cholent wants you to nap. It is healthy eating, but it is not light eating.
These are all good things, as far as I’m concerned — good smells, good food, long meals, a good nap — and cholent is the way.
Some people prefer a Moroccan-style cholent, called a dafina, or the more general Sephardic style, called hamin. Both have more intricate spicing than Ashkenazic cholent, which is less fussy. My version splits the difference. Keep in mind: Whichever you choose, this is as easy as cooking gets. If you can throw clothes in a suitcase, you can throw ingredients in a pot, and that’s cholent.
Here’s my recipe:
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 turkey legs
2 pounds short ribs or brisket
2 pounds beef knuckle or shin bone
1 pound white beans or garbanzo beans, soaked overnight and drained
2 heads garlic, peeled
1/2 pound kosher sausage (merguez, turkey, Italian)
2 onions, peeled and sliced
2 potatoes, peeled and cut in 2-inch chunks
2 yams or 1 small butternut squash, peeled and cut in 2-inch chunks
2 carrots, peeled and cut in 2-inch chunks
10 eggs, whole, in shell
2 dry or 4 fresh bay leaves
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon hot paprika
1 tablespoon salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, or to taste
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.
In a very large oven- and stove-proof pot, heat the olive oil until hot. Add the turkey legs and sear on all sides until brown. Remove. Do the same with the short ribs and knuckle bone — keep your range-vent fan on — and sear them well. Just as the meat is finishing, place half the beans in the pot. Add half the garlic. Lay in the sausage and turkey legs, the remaining the beans, the remaining garlic, the vegetables, the whole eggs and the spices. Add water to go 3/4 of the way up to the top. Bring to boil then simmer one hour.
Cover with a tight-fitting lid. Place in preheated oven.
Cook overnight, at least 8 hours. Check twice or so to make sure water is still at 3/4 level, adding more if necessary. Serve hot, offering each guest a little of everything. Great with some harissa on the side.
Serves 10 very hungry people.
NOTE: For a vegetarian version, leave out the meat, add more squash and a handful of rice. No one will starve.
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