After my twins were born, both my mom and my mother-in-law stocked our freezer with their own versions of cholent– the quintessential Jewish comfort food. Cholent is a hearty, stick-to-your-ribs, stew that was traditionally cooked overnight on Fridays and served for lunch on the Sabbath. Most versions contain meat, potatoes, beans and barley, though the folks who cook for me replace barley with a gluten-free substitute like quinoa or millet.
I guess they figured it was loaded with complex carbs, protein and iron to keep me nourished and energized, but would be easy enough to shovel in my face by the spoonful in between crying jags (both mine and the babies, naturally).
Cholent is decidedly heavy winter fare, though you can significantly reduce its fat content (which derives from the meat) by refrigerating finished cholent overnight and then skimming the solidified fat right off the top; besides, cholent that’s 1-2 days old tastes even better than fresh-from-the-oven. Cholent is a pretty flexible dish and everyone’s grandmother makes it everso slightly differently: you can change proportions of beans, meat, potatoes to suit your taste, or according to what you have on hand. (My MIL sometimes adds whole eggs in the shell to hers, which roast overnight. She’s also been known to toss in some sweet potatoes. It’s very hard to go wrong with this dish.) The important thing is to cook your cholent for 6 to 8 hours, or even longer; anything less than that has no flavor.
My Mom’s Cholent
- 2 large onions, sliced
- 1 lb. dried lima beans–more if you don’t use barley or a replacement grain(you can also mix in other kinds of dried beans, preferably medium to large ones. Gigante beans come to mind as a delicious and buttery option.)
- 3 to 4 lbs of flanken* (or if flanken is too pricey or unavailable, you can use any meaty bones plus about 3 lbs of stew meat, like chuck)
- 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, sliced thin or chopped
- 3 lbs of peeled potatoes (cut them in half if they are large)
- 1 cup of barley (optional; substitute millet or quinoa to make gluten-free)
- 1 bay leaf
- Olive or canola oil for browning onions
* Flanken is a cut of meat similar to beef short ribs
- Soak beans for several hours in cool water. Drain well.
- Cut flanken into strips or chunks. Sprinkle a little salt, pepper and paprika onto meat.
- In a large, heavy pot with cover, lightly brown the onions and garlic in oil.
- Add seasoned meat to onions/garlic. Stir to brown it a bit for just a couple of minutes.
- Add beans, potatoes, bay leaf, barley (if you use it), and add enough water to cover everything. Stir it up so ingredients are well-distributed and mixed up nicely.
- Bring cholent to a boil on top of stove.
- Transfer pot to 200 degree oven and bake for 7 or 8 hours–or longer! Check occasionally to add water if needed. You want it nice and wet, but not watery or too soupy.
- Adjust flavors to taste; Serve with horseradish, mustard, or similar spicy condiments.
This reheats beautifully–and tastes better the second or third day. It freezes like a dream.