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‘Tis the Season to Eat Cholent

December 2, 2009

Winter is here and with it the annual cholent season. While the long months of the Israeli summer make the very thought of a heavy meat meal (and an extra heat source) unthinkable, cholent is the perfect winter comfort food.

For anyone unfamiliar with this masterpiece of Jewish inventiveness, cholent (chamin in Hebrew) is a stew eaten on Shabbat afternoon after being left to simmer on low heat since Friday. Almost every Jewish community in the world has its version of this dish. Natives of communities as diverse as Jerusalem’s Nachlaot or London’s East End, have fond childhood memories of carrying home the steaming pot of cholent from the local baker’s oven every Shabbat morning.

At our house, cholent usually consists of beans, meats, potatoes and grains, such as wheat, barley, brown rice, or buckwheat. The best way to cook the grains is by separating them from the rest of the stew. Although most people I know use cellulose cooking bags for this, I don’t particularly savour the idea of cooking my food in plastic. However, I found the perfect solution while translating a Bukharian cookbook a couple of years. The author suggested cooking the grains in   drawstring muslin bags and that is exactly what I’ve been doing with great results.

Cholent can be cooked either in a crock pot or in a regular pot placed on top of a hot plate or a blech (a sheet of tin placed over a small burner or a pilot light). Make sure the pot is boiling before turning the heat down Friday afternoon.

Here is our favourite cholent recipe with several variations on the theme.

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