I must tell you about this stew.
Because even if you believe that you will never ever make it, you must know of its existence!!! And so, you will make a conscious, knowledgeable decision whether you make it or not.
I don’t want the responsibility lying on my shoulders knowing that (some of) you are walking around completely unaware of this stew.
Now, close your eyes and imagine this:
A Saturday morning (OK, it can be a Sunday too). You wake up in your warm bed with the fluffy down comforter covering you from ears to toes. The minute you wake up and regain your senses, a sweet honey, amber-like aroma amuses your nose. That sweet smell had penetrated every corner of your house, got absorbed in your pillow and your pajamas, and had sweetened your dreams while you were sleeping.
You get out of bed and put on your homey old robe on (You have one of those, right?!), and slip your feet inside your slippers, and then drag yourself to the kitchen to make coffee, or tea.
While you wait for the water to boil, you yawn as you lean against the countertop. You feel so happy and proud of yourself for loading a big pot, the night before, with beans, and potatoes, and meat, and eggs, and all kinds of good food, and putting it in the oven to slowly simmer overnight, letting the 15 hours of low heat take care of the rest…
In a few hours you will be able to enjoy this stew, this Cholent, for lunch. You have invited 14 guests but you don’t have to lift a finger.
You take a deep breath. You smile.
Ding. The button of your water kettle signals your morning coffee water had boiled.
You make coffee. You smile. You’re happy.
Now open your eyes.
And go get dressed! Your guests are arriving SOON.
Have you set the table the night before as well? Go, go go.
Do you really want to open the door when your guests arrive wearing that old robe?
(On second thought, it might be time to buy a new one.)
And, actually, I’m not sure that “stew” does this dish justice. It is plain “stew” if it has been cooking for… let’s see, it was placed in the oven at 10 PM and consumed at 1 PM the following day… That makes it… 15 hours, and it can be cooked even longer. So, I think a better word than “stew” should be applied to it. Any suggestions?
So, what is “Cholent”?
A quote from an article: “Just think of concoctions as the French cassoulet, Boston baked beans, chili con carne.” And I just want to add, “It can be all those combined!” So aren’t you convinced yet that you must try it?
I rest my case.
By the way, the article is fascinating and discusses the history, the tradition, the different ingredients and techniques, and so on of Cholent. Really interesting stuff! So go to this web page to read more about so I won’t have to reinvent the wheel all over again. Thanks.
It’s supposedly spring but the weather here is sort of crazy, and indecisive, and cooold, and rainy. Bottom line, it resembles winter more than it does spring. And I made Cholent only once this winter, so I thought, “Hey, why not? Here’s my second chance.” And there you have it.
Due to a full-day of food writing workshop – which I will tell you about in the next post – I had to send Suburban Cowboy to the grocery store the day before the Cholent making day.
Onions, garlic, prunes, potatoes, garbanzo beans, white beans, barley, chicken, beef, and barley.
Instead of barley he came back with… oats! And this is the second time this had happened! To his defense, he claims that the store put a label “Barely” under the oats’ container. But between us, we know, girls, it’s always the guys’ fault, right?! (Wink.) So there was no barley in this Cholent. So sad. It adds sweetness and chewiness to this dish.
And he didn’t soak the beans in the water because I wasn’t home to tell him and he didn’t read the recipe… So Junior and I had to go to the store that night and buy canned beans because a Cholent with no beans at all is just unthinkable.
And it still turned out great.
The guests licked their fingers.
Nah, no they didn’t. They’re too polite.
But I did get lots of compliments.
It also makes a great leftovers lunch the next day.
I packed leftovers for Suburban Cowboy’s lunch at work. My finger unintentionally touched the food and stuck to my finger as I filled the Pyrex container with the good stuff.
I licked it.
Oh, yes, I did.
So, back to the morning after the night that you started the process.
You wake up in the morning, and after you’ve had your coffee, you take a peek to see how’s your Cholent is doing so far.
This is what it looked like at 9 AM (I’ve got lil’ kids, early birds, so I don’t get to sleep until 20 minutes before lunch time/the guests are coming. And I don’t have an old robe either. Just in case you wondered).
3-4 more hours to go.
From a closer look you can see how the potatoes, prunes, chicken, and beef pieces turned all brown. It’s a totally brown food.
But, oh, I wish you could smell it.
You’ll just have to make it if you want to smell it.
At 9 AM I added the canned beans and hard boiled eggs (I must have been really tired. There’s no other way to explain why I put the eggs in a separate pan. They should be placed in the pan with the rest of the ingredients.)
But it turned out just fine.
And the smell… Oh. The neighbors knocked on my door and asked for some.
Nah, they didn’t.
They’re too polite.
I hear you’re supposed to put the ingredients in a big, tall pot – not in a big, wide pan like I did – and then layer the ingredients on top of one another as follows: onions and garlic go in first, then the beans, then the potatoes, next the meat and chicken, and the eggs on top. Then you cover it with boiling water only to the potatoes’ height.
As for the eggs, some people just wash ‘em well before adding to the pot. I like to bring them to a boil, drain and rinse with clean water, and only then add to the pot. (Why? I don’t know… Maybe to be sure they are clean of bacteria, salmonella, and all those words we hear that scare me.)
As for the beans. Use any variety you like, or even better, use a few different kinds. Soak them in water a day ahead or, at the latest, the same morning you will be cooking them. Change the water 2-3 times.
I used to add marrow bones as well… Pre The crazy cow disease years… So sad.
As with old recipes, all possible variations, combinations, adaptations, and compilations develop through the years. Here’s how I usually do it. You can easily cut the amount in half or multiply by as many guests as you have, or the size of your pot.
As a general rule of thumb I estimate, per person: 1 chunk beef, 1 piece chicken, 1 small potato, 1/2 cup mixed beans, 1 egg.
Oh, and don’t forget the Challa…….
Start time: The night before the day you want to eat it
End time: Lunch time
Makes 12 servings + most likely, leftovers
extra virgin olive oil
2-3 onions, chopped large
1-2 tablespoons sugar
2 heads of garlic, cloves separated, left whole and unpeeled
2 lbs. beef chuck, cut into large cubes
12 chicken thighs or 20 chicken drumsticks
12 small potatoes, peeled
1 cup garbanzo beans, that was soaked in water
1 cup white beans, that was soaked in water
1 cup barley, that was soaked in water (unless your husband brought you OATS)
about 12 prunes
salt, black pepper
In a pot, or tea kettle, boil about 2 quarts of water.
In a big, tall pot (or big, wide pan), fry the onions with some oil over medium heat. Sprinkle sugar on top and cook, stirring from time to time, until it starts to soften. Throw in the garlic cloves and fry another 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
If you’re in the mood/have time, brown the meat cubes. If not, just add it to the pot. Season with salt and pepper.
Next, add the chicken, potatoes, beans, barley, and prunes. Season with salt and pepper.
Scatter the eggs at the top.
Add boiling water to about 3/4 of the height. Cover with a lid or with aluminum foil (the thick kind works best).
Bring everything to a boil.
Now you have 2 options:
1) Simmer on the stovetop for 45-60 minutes, or
2) Bake in an oven that was preheated to 350 F degrees for 45-60 minutes.
Next, set the oven temperature to 225 F degrees. Place the pot/pan in there, covered, and go to bed.
The next day, in the morning, check the level of liquids. If it’s too dry (which probably won’t happen), add more boiling water. If there’s too much water, makes holes in the foil, or open a crack with the lid, or remove it altogether so some of the water will evaporate and the sauce will thicken.
That’s pretty much it.
A very special dish for a very special day.
And don’t forget the Challa…
Other appealing recipes on the web: