My Saturday mornings have been spent the same way for over two years now. I wake up just in time to pull on some lazy outfit and walk over to pray with Rabbi Levi Raichik. Sometimes, the location changes, and we meet at Chabad instead of his house. Different people have joined throughout the years and, over time, my relationship with Raichik has changed, but one thing that always remains constant in my Saturday mornings is cholent.
Eating cholent is, without a doubt, the highlight of my week. Although it doesn’t sound like much when described, the culinary experience of eating cholent is something that is unmatched.
Cholent can be described as a “Jewish stew” and contains a variety of ingredients, depending on your preference and where you’re from. Growing up, my family’s stew was called “hamin,” and it usually contained chicken, rice and chickpeas. Both types of stew are cooked for about 12 hours overnight starting Friday afternoon in order for it to be ready to eat for Saturday’s lunch.
The timing of this meal is significant because Jewish law dictates that on Shabbat (the weekly Sabbath), fire cannot be started, which has been extended to mean electricity in all forms. So, making cholent or hamin has been a way for Jews to follow the laws of Shabbat while still enjoying a hot meal on Saturdays.
Although I grew up eating hamin, it is cholent that has stolen my heart. I had the dish several times before I came to college, but no recipe or method really impressed me until I came to Chabad at Ohio University. The care and attention to detail that Raichik puts into his cholent is unmatched, and you can feel this commitment in each spoonful.
The cholent that I have been enjoying every weekend changes week by week because of the fact that cholent’s ingredients are not measured out, and there can be variations in the time spent cooking or in the ingredients depending on availability. Typically, it includes potatoes (red, golden and sweet have been used indiscriminately) rice and/or barley and beef. Sometimes, I enjoy the rare treat of kishke, which is flour and oil soaked with meat fat. These two hearty dishes combined mean that eating cholent is often something I do right before a nap because this meal can really knock you out.
Cholent is the best food, in my humble opinion, because of its simplicity. The way it is described is unremarkable, and you typically cannot convert someone into being a certified cholent lover just by talking about it.
However, the stew has a surprising magic about it. Because the food cooks for so long, the flavor profile is very full and has the added bonus of not needing attention like other dishes. Also, cholent can feed a lot of people for very little work. It can be treated as a classic crock pot meal and is definitely the most delicious version of one.
Cholent and hamin are also traditional Jewish dishes that are reminiscent of a different time. The meal is not necessarily a “healthy” one because of its high concentration of fat and carbohydrates. It is not quick to make, cannot be taken on the go and is not exactly so aesthetically pleasing. Yet, the ancient stew recipes live on.
In the fast-paced modern world, cholent and hamin don’t seem relevant or purposeful, but the changing times do not mean that tradition and Jewish law are left behind. The restrictions of Shabbat continue, and the desire for hot food prevails. And so, cholent and hamin continue to be staples in many Jewish households.
This also makes cholent continue to be an obscure Jewish food. Unlike matzo ball soup or challah, cholent has remained out of the mainstream because it was created specifically to cater to Jewish law. Because the rest of the world does not ascribe to Jewish law, there has never been a reason for non-Jewish populations to enjoy or know about cholent. Despite the possibility of never being able to partake in this culinary masterpiece, I would not recommend making cholent on your own. It is very easy to mess up, and it takes a lot of cholent masters years to perfect. Raichik, the cholent connoisseur himself, has spent most of his life perfecting his cholent recipe. What I can recommend, though, is this: If you ever have the opportunity to eat Saturday lunch’s cholent, you definitely should. It will change you forever.
Hadass Galili is a junior studying political science pre-law at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnist do not reflect those of The Post. Do you agree? Tell Hadass by tweeting her at @HadassGalili.