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A 9th Generation Jerusalem Family Shares Their Cholent Recipe

A 9th Generation Jerusalem Family Shares Their Cholent Recipe

Shared by Tziona Abramov
Recipe Roots: Jerusalem

When Tziona Abramov, an eighth generation Jerusalemite was growing up in the 1950s, the cholent in her home was nearly identical to the ones served in her neighbors’ homes. On cold winter weekends, her father Moshe, a second generation butcher, would lay a mix of chickpeas and white beans on the bottom of a large dish, top them with beef and potatoes, kishke, and rice in a separate pouch, to make the little known Jerusalem cholent.

“My grandmother was mixed,” she explained. Her mother’s family came from Morocco and her grandfather from Russia, but, as Tziona puts it, this cholent was “the tradition in Jerusalem.” 

For the uninitiated, cholent or hamin, as it’s called in many Sephardic homes, is a staple of the Jewish canon. A mix of beans, potatoes and sometimes rice, various cuts of meats, and often eggs, the dish is beloved by Jewish communities from Eastern Europe to the Levant, adapting itself well to local flavors and ingredients. Thought of as the quintessential dish of Shabbat lunch, it benefits from a long, slow cook that happens over the evening of Shabbat, making the pot ready just in time for a hardy mid-day meal. 

In Tziona’s family, that meal remained even during the years of austerity, early in the state’s development, when food, particularly meat and eggs were scarce. Much of the food in their home came from a bartering system, a type of black market Moshe was a part of. If a customer couldn’t pay for their meat with cash, they would pay in eggs, or whatever they could. “Everyone knew him when Jerusalem was still smaller,” Anat, Tziona’s daughter and a contributor to the Jewish Food Society explains. “He was a man of a lot of stories,” but not always accurate ones, Tziona jokes. 

Moshe would tend to the cholent, going to the kitchen often during the night and early morning to check the flame hadn’t gone out (and to sneak a taste). In the morning, he would fish out the eggs for an early morning meal of egg and chopped vegetable salads and fresh challah, saving the rest for lunch. It was a recipe and tradition he inherited from his mother Tzipora, who would take her pot of cholent to a neighborhood bakery before shabbat to tuck it into a large communal oven, retrieving it before the sunset and allowing it to stay warm over a low light appliance that the family used especially for the dish. Jerusalem cholent, according to Sherry Ansky’s wonderful Hebrew-language book Hamin, is marked in part by influences from the many cultures of Jewish families that settled in the city, who may have shared recipe secrets while at the bakery or simply in the courtyards that dot parts of the city.   

In 2018, Jerusalem cholent is in danger of fading, or at least being forced to change. “I’m not cooking cholent at all now,” Tziona explains. “I cannot get the kishke.” Anat hops in to add that the intestines that are traditionally used to make kishke are no longer allowed to be sold in Israel, and have been replaced with something synthetic. Tziona, who used to get her kishke from a local orthodox family until they stopped making it, refuses to compromise with the new product.

Anat, however, started to experiment with making kishke without casing in her Tel Aviv home, even trying it out on her mother, who approved, saying: “I loved what you did.” Despite the compromise she had to make to the recipe to keep it going, Anat says she is glad she did. Adding that she couldn’t give up the cholent and the atmosphere it created, of friends and family all gathered around the table, sharing the dish. 

 Photo by Dave Katz

Photo by Dave Katz

Tziona makes her cholent in an enamel oval roaster (15"x10"x6.25") - similar to a 6.75 qt. Le Creuset, but any deep oven safe roasting pot will work. Assembling your pot is a bit of a choose your own adventure journey. It will most certainly be stuffed to the brim - just make sure your favorite parts are well represented - make it your own. 

Tziona's Jerusalemite Cholent

Serves: 10-12
Time: 24 hours soaking + 1 hour prepping + ~12 hours cooking

Ingredients
¾ cup white beans (cannellini, navy, great northern, etc.), soaked overnight
¾ cup pinto beans, soaked overnight
1 cup garbanzo beans, soaked overnight
10-12 eggs
2 pounds beef for slow cooking (can be chuck, brisket, short ribs etc.), cut into large cubes
1 beef knee bone, cut into pieces, optional
2-4 pieces of 2” bone marrow rounds
½ pound beef tendons, optional (not easy to find)
10 medium red russet potatoes, peeled
½ -1 ½ pounds kishke, optional
1 cup jasmine rice, rinsed
½ tablespoon oil
2 tablespoons and 1 teaspoon salt, divided
¾ cup barley
3 tablespoons sugar
20 fresh chestnuts (if in season), shell cut in a cross
cheesecloth

Preparation
1. Place the eggs in a single layer at the bottom of a large pot and cover with 1-2 inches of water. Bring water to a boil over high heat and cook until eggs are hard boiled, 10-12 minutes. Drain and set aside.
2. Preheat the oven to 250° and place the rack on the lowest position (making sure your chosen pot will fit). 
3. Rinse the soaked beans and spread evenly along the bottom of the pot.
4. Place the beef, knee bone, bone marrow, and tendons (if using) on top of the beans. Wedge the potatoes in between the meat and bone marrow.
5. If using, place the kishke on top (if not browned, you can fry in a pan, 5 minutes per side)
6. In a small bowl, mix the rice with the oil and 1 teaspoon of salt, wrap in a piece of cheesecloth and tie with baker’s twine, leaving room for the rice to expand as it cooks. Nestle in the pot among the other ingredients.
7. Fill the pot with cold water, covering the ingredients and place on the stovetop over high heat. Bring to a boil, skimming off any foam that rises to the surface. Reduce the heat to low, add the two tablespoons of salt, and then sprinkle the barley over the top.
8. In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the sugar over medium-high heat, until it melts and turns a rich amber color (be careful not to burn the sugar, once it has melted it can burn very quickly), about 3-5 minutes. Carefully drizzle the caramelized sugar into the simmering pot.
9. Place the eggs and the chestnuts (if using) on top and cover. Your pot will likely be so full that the top will barely fit. To ensure a good seal, take strips of aluminum foil and press around the edges of the pot. 
10. Very carefully move the pot into the oven (it will be heavy!). The cholent should cook for around 12 hours depending on when you plan to serve it.
11. Early the next morning, when the wonderful smell wakes you up, check the ratio between the liquid and the ingredients and adjust the temperature of the oven if necessary. Continue checking every hour or so until you are ready to serve. There is a delicate balance that you are trying to strike between the temperature of your oven, the ratio of liquid to ingredients in your pot, and the time that you plan to serve the cholent. Ideally, the cholent is ready when all of the liquid has been absorbed by the ingredients. If there is too much liquid you may consider turning up the heat by a little or removing the lid. If there is too little, you may need to turn the heat down or in some rare instances add a touch more water. It’s ok if there is some liquid leftover in the pot at the very end - it happens sometimes.
12. For serving: place the eggs (peeled if you are very generous to your guests), chestnuts, and rice (removed from the cloth) in separate bowls and dig in, each person assembling their own bowl of ingredients.

Chef’s Notes
Tziona’s family keeps everything else on the table light, because the cholent is so rich and satisfying. They typically serve beet salad (cooked and sliced thin with an onion, garlic, vinegar, and olive oil), green salad with citrus in a mustard lemon dressing, and either a tomato salad, radish and scallion salad, or green salad with mushrooms - depending on what they have on hand. To aid digestion, Tziona recommends serving a fruit compote with prunes at the end of the meal. After cholent a nap is common if not necessary!

 Photo by Dave Katz

Photo by Dave Katz

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