Cholent is a food that at first seems like a simple Jewish chili.

Don’t be fooled.

Cholent is customarily eaten by Shabbat-observant Jews at lunch on Saturday.  It is such a powerful food that its mention will evoke groans, giggles, rapid salivation, the urgent need to take a nap, and the motivation to break a diet or vegan streak.

When it is eaten may be broken down by who you are: classically by yeshiva guys, in anticipation of Shabbat, anytime from Thursday night forward; by semi-normal people AFTER dessert following Shabbat dinner Friday night; by normal folk at lunch; and by hungry carnivorous husbands, as leftovers anytime from Shabbat on through Thursday of the next week.

It appears in different varieties, depending if a Jew’s genealogy stems from Germany, Poland, Italy, Morocco or what-have-you.

OK – here are some FAQ’s.

Q. Why do Jews eat cholent?

A. Years ago back in the day there was a group of Jews known as the Karaites.  They had a philosophical belief that the Oral Law was not divine, but that the Written Law was divine.  Well, the Written Law states, “Do not burn a fire in your homes on Shabbat.”  The Oral Law explains: don’t ignite it, but you can have it burning from before Shabbat.  The Karaites observed Shabbat by sitting in a cold, dark home and eating cold food.  The Jews that believed in the Oral Law developed a custom to eat a food, that had been simmering from before Shabbat to emphasize that according to the Oral Law, this is how God wants us to both observe and celebrate Shabbat (which are not the same thing, btw).

Q. What on earth does “cholent” mean?  

A. Some say it comes from chaud (“hot”) and lent (“slow”), expressing the point of cholent: that it be hot, and been cooking since Friday.

Q. What are some other things you can tell us about cholent??


  • It’s the ultimate comfort food.  When I smell it, I am brought back in time to the many, many Shabbos meals I’ve experienced in my life.  When I wake up Shabbos morning and smell it cooking, all seems right with the world.  If Shabbos had a smell, it would be the cholent simmering away. 
  • Many conversations center around it: did it come out watery or more stew-like, spicy or savory, did my husband throw in some jalapeno sauce when no one was looking? 
  • “They say” the cholent depends on the guests… if the guest are good, the cholent will be good.  I doubt this is true, but it makes for excellent conversation (when the guests compliment the cholent, that is).
  • Babies LOVE it.  It’s mushy and savory.  They can put the hungriest teenage boy to shame in a cholent-off.
Q. How do you make this super-food?
A. The easiest way to make cholent is with a crock pot, but it can be done without.  Here’s my personal recipe.  My husband tends to jack it up with barbeque sauce, bone suckin’ sauce, and other interesting condiments when I’m not looking, so if yours turns out nothing like mine, sorry.  Yield: a normal hungry family, a family with guests if you’re not starving, or one yeshiva guy.
1 package short ribs (aka “flanken”) – see below for meatless variation
3 potatoes – either white or sweet, or a combo
1/2 cup beans – navy, kidney, or any combo.  They must be RAW; not from a can.
1/2 cup barley
one onion, quartered
water to cover
salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder
With crock pot:
Place all ingredients and add water to cover.  Turn on high anytime on Friday.  Cook on high for at least 2-3 hours.  Before Shabbat, add more water to cover if it’s dry, lower crock pot to “warm” or “simmer” and ignore till lunch.  DO NOT STIR.  Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that stirring cholent creates negative spiritual energies (joke).
Also: you’ll have to play around with your crock pot to get it right.  Don’t fret.  It took me about a year to get it right.
In a pot:
Follow crock pot ingredients.  Bring to a boil, and cook for 2 hours.  Lower to simmer.  Prior to Shabbat, add water if necessary and place in oven at 225.  Ignore till lunch.
Note: your pot will be a bear to clean, so here’s another trick.  After it’s been cooking, transfer to a disposable tin and place in oven at 225.  Then, after serving, you can dump the pan.
Vegan cholent:
Follow all instructions and ingredients; simply omit the meat.  I use only sweet potatoes when making vegan cholent to add flavor.  I also add some beans and barley.  It’s really good!
Happy cholenting!
Have you ever tried cholent?