I have never been one for Jewish customs. I do not shake a lulav on Sukkot nor do I dress up on Purim; I cannot remember the last time I prayed and I have not danced on Simchat Torah regardless of how much I engaged in the celebratory drinking the holiday seems to encourage. This lack of tradition also strayed to the Shabbat table. Growing up, I feigned vegetarianism to get out of eating my mother’s brisket (which with age and eventual sampling has proven to be absolutely divine) and cringed at the thought of peppery Yerushalmi kugel (its that kugel in the shape of a bundt cake that’s oddly sweet but packed with pepper). That being said, there is one Jewish comfort food that I have never been able to resist and was responsible for easing me into eating like an omnivore later in life – cholent. While it may not look appetizing as it sputters from a grease-stained crock pot on your mother’s kitchen counter, a bowl of my mother’s cholent can heal me of any ailment, mental or physical and pulls me from a rut faster than any grandmother’s chicken soup. Hands down, my calorie counting, quasi-vegetarian, British mother seems to have been a zaftig Eastern European woman in a past life. This recipe, in my opinion, could win awards, not only for its conversion of non-Jews to the wonders of Jewish cooking but for its ability to turn any frown upside down – or maybe the latter has more to do with the fact that the lady behind it happens to be in the form of an adorable, red-headed, Jewish educator standing at 5’2 named My Mommy.
When I asked my mother, Ricky Stamler Goldberg, for her forever-praised cholent recipe, here is the email she sent me:
Here is the recipe. Remember, it is cholent not baking. It is not an exact art rather an act of warming the soul. Throw it in there, wait until it smells delicious and eat!
Also – use a crockpot. To make clean up easier, spray the pot with cooking spray first and then add:
5 peeled and cubed potatoes
1 peeled onion
1 bag (16 oz) barley, rinsed in warm water
1/2 cup cholent cholent beans (yes, that is what the bag says). Use a little more if you like beans…
3-4 lbs flanken meat on the bone
1/2 lbs cubed chuck steak
3/4 lb chunk of pastrami
In a medium size bowl mix:
4-5 cloves crushed garlic
salt & pepper (be generous, but if you are worried you can always add later)
1/4-1/2 a cup of ketchup
1-2 tbsp of paprika
2 cups warm water
* if you like a kick- throw in some red chili flakes
Add all this to the cholent pot then add another 2 cups warm water. The water should just cover the cholent mixture.
Cook on low for 24 hours.
Take Beano and enjoy!
Stick to this formula, with your preferences accounted for, and you could be enjoying what has rescued me and my flailing devotion to Judaism for years. While I am most certainly biased, my fantastic mother, her fantastic cooking and her understanding that our culture is best bound together with the thick potato-y paste that is her cholent has made me far more traditional in my Jewish ways than I ever thought possible. Enjoy!