Shia Altman

America’s Got Cholent

That’s right, your eyes don’t deceive you.  Cholent.  Jewish stew.  Hold on now, put the remote down.  Don’t change the channel just yet.  You may enjoy this piece.  Stick with it, just like cholent sticks to your kishkas (your insides, and I will get to that a bit later).  Look, I know this isn’t an Israel, Gaza, Jews, war, hatred, etc. column.  But I wanted to get away from the heavy stuff and that’s why I decided to lighten things up by talking about um, the heavy stuff.  And if you continue through my explanation of the stew, which may typically include flanken meat, different kinds of beans, barley, kishka and potatoes, you will see my own personal recipe.  Excited?  Good!  I knew you would be!

Cholent (or chulent), the name used by Ashkenazi Jews, (or Chamin, the one used by Sephardi Jews and many Israelis), is a traditional Shabbat (Sabbath) concoction similar to chili con carne.  But no, just because they sound a bit alike and sort of are, does not mean one evolved from the other.  According to Wikipedia, cholent goes back to 12th century Europe; chili con carne, originating in the US Southwest, may go back a hundred and twenty years or so.  It isn’t known for sure, but the name cholent may have been derived from Latin or French words meaning hot, and hot and slow respectively.  I got that from Wikipedia as well.  If my mother was still living and I asked her, “Ma, what does cholent mean?” she would say, “It means, stop vit the Vikipedia, and leave me alone!”

Incidentally, the Bible tells the story of Jacob making and serving his father Isaac lentil stew while Jacob’s evil twin brother Esau was out hunting and probably gallivanting at the local watering hole.  I happen to think our forefather may have invented cholent by throwing some meat into the pot.  And Isaac liked Jacob’s stew so much he gave him and his descendants the Land of Israel.  (Had Jacob tossed in some jalapeños, we might have gotten a different country altogether.)  So cholent may be the cause of so many of our people’s problems today, and not just for gastric reasons.

But I digress.

Cholent is generally cooked and consumed during the more cooler months of the year.  Observant Jews, wanting a hot meal but forbidden to cook on Shabbat, prepare the dish on Friday and allow it to slow-cook in a pot overnight either on a hot plate or burner, or in a crock pot until the stew is served at lunch the next day, Shabbat.  This stew is not just a prepared meal, it really is a meal in itself.  It has become a custom for Orthodox synagogues to serve cholent to its congregants after Shabbat services, and today it is enjoyed all over the world by observant and non-observant Jews alike.

There are many different variations of chulent, with all kinds of ingredients; chulent recipe ideas are limited only by one’s culinary, salivatory imagination.  What’s your favorite recipe?  In any event, people can now participate in cholent cook-offs held in synagogues, universities and other institutions, and you can find the dish on the menus of many restaurants – something I never saw when I was a kid.  (Maybe one day it might even make it to fast food establishments.  “Yes, I would like the Number 3, please.  Right, the McCholent.  And can you supersize the kugle?”)

So you are saying, enough already, how do you make cholent?  OK, I’ll tell you.  By the way, it really is not that complicated.  The ingredients and instructions are very simple, because I am not into fancy foods or drinks, and I am a pretty picky eater as well.  No pâté, or latte, or quiche or some other accented ingestible for me.  OK, OK, here:

Cholent – Shia Style

Lima Beans, Kidney Beans, Black Beans, Pinto Beans
2 Small Potatoes
Beef Summer Sausage
Kishka – Kishka, also one of those old-time Eastern-European foods, is a sausage-looking thing made up of beef fat, flour and/or Matzah Meal, ground-up vegetables, water and spices.  It is called ‘kishka’ which means intestine or gut, because these ingredients used to be (and might very well still be somewhere) encased in a piece of cow intestine.  Now hang on, before you get grossed out, the only kishka I have ever seen in stores was wrapped in good old wax paper and plastic.  (Personally, I happen to think the dish is called kishka, because if the cholent alone doesn’t cement itself to your intestines and bring your metabolism to a screeching halt, the addition of the kishka will complete the process and you will be well on your way to a cardiac arrest.)


Step 1
– measure 1 cup of beans (some of each type mentioned above) and lentils, rinse/clean them and put them into a large crock pot
– measure 1 cup of barley, rinse/clean them and put them into the pot
– pour water into the pot until it covers the beans, lentils and barley by about 2 inches
– put in salt, pepper (not too much), onion powder (many of you use real onion pieces, I know, I know), garlic powder, and several squirts of ketchup (yes, ketchup)
– mix well, taste the liquid and add salt if needed, and cover the pot but do not turn it on
– let it sit overnight or for as long as needed for the liquid to soak into the beans, etc.
[Others just soak the beans, etc. in plain water.  Seasoning the water as I do, really makes the harder ingredients, and so, the cholent, more flavorful.  Aha moment, right?]

Step 2
– add water to 2 inches over the beans, etc.
– add more onion powder, garlic powder, ketchup, and salt and pepper as needed for taste

Step 3
– cut the potatoes into about 1 – 2 inch pieces and put them into the pot
– cut the beef sausage into 1 – 2 inch pieces, make sure you remove all the wrappings and put the beef into the pot
– mix it all up
– cut the (defrosted) kishka, all wrappings removed, into 1 inch slices, lay the kishka on top of the mix and push the pieces down under the liquid
– cover the pot and turn it on low

Step 4 (Not completely necessary but it helps if you have the time.)
– after 4 hours, remove the kishka, meat and potatoes and taste the liquid and some beans
– if the beans are still hard, add a little water
– add more onion powder, garlic powder, ketchup, and salt and pepper as needed for taste
– put the meat, potatoes and kishka back as before, cover the pot and leave it on low

Step 5
– repeat Step 4 after 3 – 4 more hours if you have the time
– cover and let the cholent cook at least 4 more hours or overnight

Step 6
– wake up, and take in just how wonderful your whole house smells
– eat, eat
– thank me profusely


About the Author
Shia Altman who hails from Baltimore, MD, now lives in Los Angeles. His Jewish studies, aerospace, and business and marketing background includes a BA from the University of Maryland and an MBA from the University of Baltimore. When not dabbling in Internet Marketing, Shia tutors Bar and Bat Mitzvah, and Judaic and Biblical Studies to both young and old.
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