Cholent (Yiddish: טשאָלנט) or hamin
(Hebrew: חמין) is a traditional Jewish stew simmered overnight, for 12
hours or more, and eaten for lunch on Shabbat (the Sabbath.)
Cholent was developed over
the centuries to conform with Jewish religious laws that prohibit cooking on the
Sabbath. The pot is brought to boil on Friday before the Sabbath begins, and
kept on a blech or hotplate, or placed in a slow oven or electric slow cooker
until the following day.
There are many variations of the dish, which is standard in both the Ashkenazi
and Sephardi kitchens. The basic ingredients of cholent are meat, potatoes,
beans and barley. Sephardi-style hamin uses rice instead of beans and barley,
and chicken instead of beef. A traditional Sephardi addition is whole eggs in
the shell (haminados), which turn brown overnight. Ashkenazi cholent often
contains kishke or helzel – a sausage casing or a chicken neck skin stuffed with
a flour-based mixture. Slow overnight cooking allows the flavors of the various
ingredients to permeate and produces the characteristic taste of cholent.
Left: Vegetable cholent.
In traditional Jewish families, both Ashkenazi and Sephardi,
cholent or hamin is the hot main course of the midday Shabbat meal served on
Saturdays after the morning synagogue services. Secular Jewish families in
Israel also serve cholent. The dish is more popular in the winter.
Ashkenazi cholent recipes
There are many recipes for cholent. Ingredients vary according to the geographic
areas of Europe where the Jews lived and especially the personal preferences of
the cook. The core ingredients of a traditional cholent include beef (shoulder,
brisket, flank, or any other cut that becomes tender and flavorful in long slow
cooking). The meat is placed in a pot with peeled potatoes, any type or size of
beans, and grains (barley, hulled wheat, rice). The mixture is lightly seasoned,
mainly salt and pepper, and water is added to the pot to create a stew-like
consistency during slow cooking.
While beef is the traditional meat ingredient, alternative meats may include
chicken, turkey, veal, frankfurters, or even goose (echoing the French
cassoulet). Other vegetables such as carrots, sweet potato, tomatoes, and
zucchini may be added. Spicing may be enhanced to include paprika, peppercorns,
and even tomato sauce or ketchup. For additional flavor and browning, some cooks
add unpeeled onions or a small amount of sugar caramelized in oil. Some are
known to add also beer or whiskey for extra flavor.
A common addition to cholent is kishke or helzel. Kishke is a type of kosher
sausage stuffed with a flour mixture, chicken or goose fat, fried onions and
spices. Traditionally, kishke was made with intestinal lining from a cow. Today,
the casing is often an edible synthetic casing such as that used for salami or
hot dogs. Helzel is chicken neck skin stuffed with a flour-based mixture similar
to kishke and sewed with a thread and needle to ensure that it remains intact in
Sephardi-style hamin calls for whole, stuffed vegetables in addition to meat or
chicken. Whole vegetables such as tomatoes, green peppers, eggplant halves and
zucchini are stuffed with a mixture of beef and rice, and are then placed into
the pot with meat or chicken and chickpeas. Sephardim also add spices such as
cumin and hot peppers.
The ingredients and spiciness of hamin varies from area to area. Iraqi Jews
prepare their version of cholent, known as tebit, with a whole chicken stuffed
with rice. Jews from Morocco or Iberia make a version called dafina, which calls
for spices like garlic, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, and pepper, as well as whole
eggs that turn brown and creamy during the long cooking process. The Spanish
cocido ('stew') containing chicken and chickpeas is a likely offshoot of the
traditional hamin of the Spanish Jews.
Sephardi-style hamin typically includes whole eggs in the shell, which are
placed on top of the mixture in the stewing pot and turn brown in the course of
all-night cooking. The brown eggs, called haminados (güevos haminadavos in
Ladino, huevos haminados in Spanish), are shelled before serving and placed on
top of the other cooked ingredients.
In a Tunisian version, the brown eggs are
cooked separately in a metal pot on the all-night stove with water and tea
leaves (similar to tea eggs). Haminados can be cooked in this way even if no
hamin is prepared. The addition of tea leaves, coffee grinds, or onion skins to
the water dyes the shell purple and the white a light brown, giving the egg a
smooth creamy texture. Brown eggs are a popular accompaniment to
ful medames (an
Egyptian dish of mashed broad beans) and in Israel they may also be served with
hummus (a spread of mashed chickpeas).