Cholent—the Jewish Cassoulet!

Cholent 1tess

This is one last Jewish recipe for a while: a Sabbath stew of meat, potatoes, beans, and barley. Mr. Tess’s aunt makes a very nice brisket for one of her seders, and Ella mentioned how good brisket is during Passover, so it was in my mind when I was shopping on a cold rainy day to make something indoors and homey. One would not eat cholent during Passover; the beans need soaking and the whole dish cooks too long and slow for a quick escape from pharaoh and all…

Cholent 1tess

Shabbot begins (as all Jewish days) at sunset, on Friday, and ends on Saturday every week; it’s meant to be a day of rest and re-creation when all the weekday concerns are set aside to pursue higher spiritual (and other) enrichment. The Ten Commandments require its observance, and the day of rest has come through history to us Christians. Such a day may be viewed as restrictive and full of rules to be followed, silences to be observed solemnly, with the hours creeping slowly until release. In ancient times, a day of rest every week was viewed as a radical concept, whether “ancient times” means B.C., or during part of the last century in the U.S.A. or in countries, now, where people do not have enough to eat.

Cholent 1tess

So, work is not to be done on the Sabbath, and cooking is work. This dish developed in places where bakeries used brick ovens, and though people stopped adding fuel to the ovens for the day of rest, the bricks held lots of heat. Everyone would bring pots of food before sunset on Fridays to cook over the hot bricks so they would have a hot meal on the Saturday.

…”The French have cassoulet, we have cholent.”…

The name “cholent” (there are various pronunciations) is generally believed to come from the medieval French chault (hot) and lent (slow) in reference to the long slow cooking. There were Jews in the region of the Languedoc, where cassoulet originated, since earliest times. Many lived off the land. Toulouse, Narbonne, Nîmes, Lunel, Béziers, and especially Montpellier were centers of Talmudic studies. Then there was a massacre during the Albigensian Crusade in the thirteenth century and measures were taken against them. When they were finally expelled in 1394, many headed for Germany. That may well be how a kind of cholent (there were no white beans at that time—they came from the New World) and the name was introduced to the Yiddish-speaking world. ~~from The Book of Jewish Food, by Claudia Roden

Canal du Midi
Canal du MidiInside the lock, gates still openGates closing to the lower canal.canal-du-midi_5199Canal du Midi

In 2006, we rented a canal boat to tour Languedoc, beginning in Castelnaudary. Hover over the pictures to see their titles, or click on them for larger images and more information about Canal du Midi. It was no easy feat for me, because I’d broken my ankle—at least we’d chosen a boat I could crawl on and off (some of them were really high). We mostly cooked on board, but one evening we went to a restaurant for cassoulet. Mr. Tess bought me a clay dish to make cassoulet, but I confess that we’ve not yet attempted the many day process (of making “leftovers” on purpose) to make cassoulet. Delicious stuff, though.

Canal du MidiCanal du MidiCanal du MidiAfter being lowered in a lockcastelnaudary_5252


Jewish Cassoulet
from The Book of Jewish Food
Cholent just the meat 1tessby Claudia Roden
serves 6
page 149

  • 2 pounds beef brisket, breast or rib
  • 3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 large onions sliced
  • 3 to 5 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
  • 2 marrow bones (optional)
  • 2 pounds potatoes, peeled, whole if small, quartered if medium
  • 1/2 pound dried white haricot or butter beans soaked for an hour (I used lima beans)
  • 1/2 cup pearl barley
  • Salt and pepper

In a large heavy pot or casserole with a tightly fintting lid, brown the meat in the oil. Remove it, and fry the onions till soft. Add the garlic and fry till the aroma rises. Return the meat to the pot, add the marrow bones, and arrange the potatoes, beans, and barley around it sprinkling each layer with salt and pepper.
Cover with water and bring to a boil. Remove the scum, then put the lid on and leave in the lowest oven (225°F; 110°C) overnight. Remove the lid at the table, so that everyone can get the first whiff of the appetizing smell which emanates.
Use 1 1/4 cups kasha instead of the beans and barley.
Some people put onions skins on top of the stew to give a more pronounced brown color.
Flavor with 1 teaspoon paprika and 1 teaspoon ground ginger.
Hungarians and Alsatians add smoked or preserved goose.

Knaidlach 1tessAccompaniments to Cholent which are placed in the stew pot before cooking
For a cholent knaidlach (dumpling) also referrred to as “cholent kugel” (pudding), work 4 Tablespoons finely chopped chicken fat into 1 cup flour with your hands, add 1 egg, 2 Tablespoons grated onion, salt and pepper, and if you like 1 Tablespoon finely chopped parsley or 1 teaspoon paprika. Add a little water if the dough is too dry, or a little flour if it’s too sticky. Roll into a fat oval loaf or ball and place on top of the other ingredients in the stew. Serve cut into slices.
For a matzo knaidlach, beat 2 eggs with salt, pepper, and 3 tablespoons rendered chicken fat and mix in 1 1/3 cups medium matzo meal. Form into a ball and put on top of the other ingredients in the pot. When serving, cut into slices.
Other knaidlach are made with hallah bread, semolina, or grated potatoes.
Kishke will be for another day. It’s a sausage made with cow’s intestine stuffed with onion, chicken fat, flour, and matzo meal.

Oyster Mushrooms 1tessOyster Mushrooms 1tessThis is quite a “brown” meal, but Mr. Tess kindly made some green beans with garlic and mushrooms. He got the mushrooms from the Farmers’ Market—someone in the area is growing oyster mushrooms! Who knew!!!

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4 thoughts on “Cholent—the Jewish Cassoulet!

  1. I have never been a friend of cholent, but I enjoyed your postiing! How did Mr Tess make those oyster mushroom;here I buy them all the time but usually fry them on my grill pan and they are delicious.

    • Oh, yes, cholent can be a bit heavy! No one claims it’s health food! But it’s been years since I made it. I wish I’d used more beans—my favorite part.

      He pan-fried the mushrooms, sliced, with garlic and olive oil (I think), then stirred in the blanched green beans. I didn’t watch how he did it, though.

      The mushrooms are very beautiful when they are that fresh, and I’m hoping the vendor will be selling them again at the Farmers’ Market. I’m so pleased that someone local is growing/selling them—from the supermarket they are ok, but these were quite alive. Apparently oyster mushrooms are easier to grow than shiitakes—my husband and a friend tried unsuccessfully to grow shiitakes!

    • It was indeed delicious…
      and I hope I don’t wait years again to make cholent again. ≥^,^≤
      I used to corn brisket myself, from a Julia Child recipe she had a whole menu in “Julia and Company” with homemade pasta and all. Another good brisket recipe.

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