The Mother of All Overnight Shabbat Stews, Jerusalem Style

In her new blog, Vered Guttman reminisces about her grandmother's cholent and explains how to prepare the similar Jerusalem-style chamin.

When I was growing up in Israel, every shabbat afternoon was spent at my Polish grandmother’s, Rachel.

As we sat at the table, she would emerge from the kitchen, with small steps, carrying a heavy, steaming casserole of cholent.

This beans- potatoes-and-meat-stew was cooked all night on a hot plate, wrapped in towels.

Her back leaned forward as she entered the room, as if from the weight of the heavy dish. She put the cholent on the table, opened the lid, and smiled proudly as we all went ooh and aah.

The cholent was always deep brown, its aroma intoxicating, and my grandmother always said, "Look at the potatoes, they’re as juicy as figs!" It was cold and rainy outside, but we all felt so good and warm inside, eating the boiling, peppery, sweet stew.

The picture was completely different in the summer. My grandmother insisted on this beautiful Jewish tradition year round, not willing to accept the fact that the weather was Levantine, not Eastern-European anymore.

We would be rushed out of the swimming pool, where we wanted to spend our day off from school, and over to my grandmother's house. She would repeat the same ceremony of introducing the weekly cholent to us: small steps, figs and all, but this time we were sweaty. The temperatures reached 100 degrees outside, and felt like 150 degrees once she uncovered the stew. We still couldn’t resist it. And after lunch we all would collapse on the sofa, unable to move for the rest of the day.

I started talking last week about shabbat overnight stews. There’s no doubt that the dish that’s most associated with this method is the Eastern-European cholent.

Cholent share the same roots as its brother, the Sephardi dfina. An overnight porridge-like stew of wheat and meat called harisa was popular in Spain in the Middle Ages, and later got the Hebrew name chamin, which basically means warm.

From Spain, it arrived to Provence where the dish was called chalet (deriving from the old French word for “warm”). And then it spread throughout France and Eastern Europe, with each community adding its own variations, like legumes, and different meats, until it became what we know today as Cholent.

After the expulsion of Jews from Spain, the chamin moved with the Jewish community to North Africa and adopted the local spices, grains and legumes typical to each of the communities there as well. The result of this North African voyage is what we know today as dfina.

At the same time, the original Spanish harisa was also kept alive. My brother in law’s family, like other families who originated from Yemen, makes it to this day.

In his wonderful book, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, Gil Marks suggests that the cholent was adapted by the French and became the cassoulet, and that the roots of the Tex-Mex chili con carne go way back to the Sephardi chamin... I like that!

The recipe I’ll give today is for the Jerusalem-style chamin. It is very similar to the Ashkenazi cholent, but adds bread patties on top of the regular combination of beans, meat, marrow bones and potatoes. To this chamin you can also choose to add rice bags, stuffed vegetables and even kibbeh. And if you’re brave enough to make your own kishka - add that too!

I am using one trick that I learned from my grandmother - peel the potatoes a few hours before you start cooking, and just leave them in the open air (do not cover with water). They will grow unappealing black spotsm, but those will disappear after cooking, so don’t worry about it. The potatoes will taste sweeter will have a heavier and nicer texture.

And as if we don’t have enough carbs already, I want you to try another Jerusalem variation on a familiar dish - the kugel. I’m not a kugel kind of girl, but this peppery, cooked-all-night version is the best. The way it’s cooked is by caramelizing the sugar with oil, mixing with the noodles and eggs and sending the kugel to the oven for the night next to the cholent. It is especially good when served with pickled cucumbers or turnips.

We would love to hear your family recipes and tips for Shabbat stews from around the globe. And don’t hesitate to make up your own recipe as well - how about short ribs with root vegetables in red wine for a night in the oven? or an overnight chili for the Superbowl?

Recipes: Jerusalem kugel, Jerusalem chamin

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