The official breakfast of the IKC
By Dietrich Krieger, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=86334483
Top Ten reasons why Cholent is like Sex
10. They're both best when they're hot.
9. The longer it takes to make, the better it is.
8. Just like sex, when you first hear what cholent is, it sounds pretty disgusting.
7. It's best to be creative, and try different things out every time.
6. Takes time to acquire the taste and learn how to make it right.
5. Sometimes, but not always, the grosser the things you include, the better it is.
4. A new wife has to learn how to do it well to keep her husband happy.
3. If she's not very good at it, she can make up for this by doing it more often.
2. Both are best enjoyed on Shabbos but forbidden on Yom Kippur.
1. And the Number one reason why Cholent is like Sex:
Even when it's bad, it's still pretty good!
A Slice of Life
Kosher Ambrosia, Spark Struck of G-d
by Rabbi Marc Wilson
Put down your pastrami on rye. And your chopped liver. And your lox and bagels. And even your chicken soup. Let me wax rhapsodic over an authentic Jewish delicacy. Not one that is consecrated merely by nostalgia and sensory gratification, but by divinely inspired mandate.
Cholent - proof positive that the Jews, not Louis Sullivan, first discovered that wondrous gifts ensue when form is allowed to follow function. For, cholent is the ingenious, robust, aromatic answer to the Biblical admonition not to kindle a fire on the Sabbath day. How, some valorous hausfrau of bygone ages asked, can the Children of Israel have a warm, nourishing Sabbath lunch without kindling a fire? And in the Council of Sages, a solution was born: cholent.
Friday afternoon, set the oven very low, take a little beans, a little barley, a little meat, a few potatoes, a sprinkle of salt, and abundant garlic. Water it down well, cover it tight, and cook ad infinitum. When the spirit has finally been sated by a morning spent in Sabbath worship and song, it is time to sate the ravenous appetite with more earthy delights.
The house is permeated by a seductive aroma that entices us to the dining room. The lid is lifted, the mystical pillar of cloud ascends, and we are transported simultaneously back to Sinai, to Jerusalem, to Anatevka, to dingy tenements on Delancey Street, and at the same time, forward to the long-awaited Messianic era.
Some folk-linguists theorize the origin of cholent is in the German schule ende, meaning "synagogue is over." More likely, however, cholent takes its name from its most essential religious calling card: It is hot, on a day when hot foods are at a premium. Caliente in Latin, to chaud in French, to cholent in Yiddish, the mother tongue of Eastern European Jews.
My brethren of German extraction tend to call it schalent and use it more generically to speak of anything that is cooked for a long time in a deep dish. The Germans are especially devoted to what they call apfel schalet, conclusive proof that, along with the dirigible balloon, Brunswick stew, and the crockpot, Jews also invented deep-dish apple pie.
The magic of this savory stew engaged the hearts and minds of the most profound poets and philosophers. Heinrich Heine, who spent the better part of his life vacilating ambivalently between Judaism and Christianity, maintained that cholent should become the secret weapon in Christendom's arsenal to make their conversionary efforts toward the Jews more effective. He went so far as to pen a parody to Schiller's "Ode to Joy," in which he extols cholent as "kosher ambrosia, spark struck from G-d." His colleague, Moritz Sappir, who did actually embrace Christianity, nonetheless wrote an entire treatise on the glories of cholent.
Theologians have propounded that one's ability to awaken after Saturday afternoon's cholent-induced coma is definitive proof of the doctrine of resurrection.
My own encounters with cholent have been less philosophically sublime, but no less passionate. As a young yeshiva bochur, I routinely risked a month of in-house suspension just to steal down to the dormitory kitchen late Friday night and surreptitiously skim off the crusty goodies that were forming on top of the cholent destined for Saturday's lunch.
My grandmother, who otherwise shunned the deeper theology of Judaism, indulged my cholent fixation by nestling gefilte helzel atop the bubbling cholent. Gefilte helzel: skin of the chicken neck, stuffed with a mixture of matzo meal and cornflake crumbs, sewn shut meticulously as only a woman from the garment trade could, so as to resemble a miniature football.
Not inclined toward needle and thread, I replace gefilte helzel with a dumpling-like mixture of matzo meal, cornflake crumbs, oatmeal and Grape Nuts, which my mother remembers being called a jakoi, presumably a Slavonic word meaning "rest-in-belly-like-cannon-ball."
The following is my favorite (only!) cholent recipe. I give no proportions, because cholent must of necessity be an uncharted adventure. Tinker with it until it touches your ethnic core. Definitive research by Yeshiva University has concluded that cholent served occasions other than Saturday afternoon descends to the taste of, G-d of Abraham forgive us, cassoulet.
Cholent ala Wilson
- Mixture of beans (navy, pinto, lima, kidney, and/or great northern)
- (At least) 8 ounces of barley
- Sizable chunks of short ribs, brisket, and/or chuck
- Handsful of chopped onions
- Chunks of potato, peeled
- Salt, pepper, paprika
- Lots of garlic, preferably fresh crushed
Layer bottom of heavy Dutch oven or crockpot with chopped onions and garlic.
Add meat. Season. More onions and garlic. Add barley and beans. Season again. More onions and garlic. Add potato chunks. Season again. Sprinkle liberally with paprika. Cover with water 'til the tips of the potatoes peek out like the crest of Ararat above Noah's flood. Cover with heavy lid and cook at 225 degrees from Friday afternoon 'til after synagogue Saturday noon. Don't peek!
Eat. Enjoy. Remember the most fitting epitaph for a hearty Sabbath dinner of cholent, first spoken by the brother of my grandfather's second wife: "That was delicious. Would anyone care for a Tums?"
Marc Wilson, AKA "Rabbi Ribeye," is a syndicated columnist, program design consultant and sometimes-chef.
When we asked Rabbi Wilson for permission to repost his essay, which first appeared on March 3, 2006, he answered: ''I'm delighted and honored. Please tell me your location and send my good wishes to your Kiddush Club. My son was a proud member of one while he lived in NYC, but insisted exclusively on single malt.