I have a number of Facebook friends from Israel who all enjoy cooking. Some of them had posted very appetizing pictures of a traditional dish I had not heard of before, and because this is right up my alley I wanted to try it myself.
Cholent is a meat stew usually eaten on shabbat. It is prepared on Friday and simmered overnight so it can be eaten without breaking the “no cooking” (bishul) shabbat rule. There are no fixed rules for what has to go into cholent, basically every family has their own recipe. All have in common that that is a combination of meat, vegetable and starch because it is supposed to be a complete meal.
The range of traditional ingredients for cholent is a bit like a set of building blocks where you can pick the ones you prefer. There are dfferences between Ashkenazi and Sephardi traditions as well as regional differences. Here is a non-exhaustive list of what may go into the cholent pot:
- Beef is the most popular meat, all cuts suitable for long braising like ribs (flanken), oxtail, shanks or brisket
Often an additional starch based ingredient is added to enrich the meal:
- Kugel or kneidel: A dumpling usually made from shmaltz and flour or potato
- Kishke or kishka: A beef intestine stuffed with a mixture of shmaltz, vegetables and matzo meal
- Helzl: A chicken, duck or goose neck stuffed like kishke
I went for the kishke because it is essentially a sausage without muscle meat and I happen to have beef casing around.
Ingredients (serves 2 to 3 persons):
For the kishke:
- 1 large onion
- An equal amount of shmaltz
- About twice the amount of matzo meal or dried breadcrumbs
- Paprika powder
- Natural beef casing
Shmaltz is rendered poultry fat, ususally from chicken. I used duck shmaltz which I had collected when making a roast duck.
For the cholent:
- 700 g beef (weight without bones)
- 1 marrow bone per person
- 200 g dried beans
- 400 g cherry tomatoes
- 1 onion, coarsely chopped
- 1 carrot, cut into small chunks
- 3 garlic cloves, cut in halves
- 3 bay leaves
- A sprig of oregano and/or thyme
- Vegetable oil
Today happens to be Passover when food rules are especially strict. As it uses beans my version is certainly not kosher for passover for Ashkenazi Jews because beans are kitniyot. Sephardic Jews do eat beans on passover. But with the ingredients I use it should be possible to prepare it for a regular shabbat meal according to kashrut. Ashkenazi Passover cholent usually is made with potatoes.
- Kishke preparation: 30 minutes
- Cholent preparation: 15 minutes
- Cooking time: 12 to 24 hours
Special equipment needed:
- Slow cooker or a cast iron pot to go into the oven
- Wide sausage stuffer attachment or a wide neck funnel to stuff the kishke
Soak the beef casing for at least 60 minutes. Grate the onion by hand or mash it using a food processor or blender. Mix with shmaltz and breadcrumbs (or matzo meal) to get a paste with the texture of firm porridge. Season with salt, pepper and paprika powder and stuff the casing with it.
It is crucial to stuff the casing lightly, not much more than half full because it will expand during cooking. Even though I tried to observe this, my kishke burst when I cooked it. This is not a drama because the stuffing is not lost, but of course it is better if it stays intact.
Soak the beans for at least 6 hours. Preheat the oven to 90 degrees. Depending on what cut of meat you use, either cut it in chunks or leave it intact. I used slices of beef shank which I cut up to isolate the marrowbones.
Heat vegetable oil in your cast iron pot (or in a skillet when using a slow cooker) and sear the beef pieces for a few minutes so they get a nice brown colour. Also brown the marrowbones. Remove the meat and then brown carrots and onions for a few minutes. Drain the beans and assemble all ingredients in your pot. Season with salt and pepper, stir and place the kishke on top. Top up with water so the meat is just about covered, cover the pot and cook overnight.
Cooking time is completely uncritical as long as the stew is not boiling. Serve when you like but make sure it has cooked for at least 12 hours. As mentioned above my kishke partly burst. The result is a slightly less appetizing picture, but it still tasted delicious. Recommended drink: a robust red wine.