Cholent for Pessah

For those of us who enjoy cholent or hamin on Shabbat, our weekend staple poses a problem during Pessah.

cholent 88 (photo credit: )
cholent 88
(photo credit: )
For those of us who enjoy cholent or hamin on Shabbat, our weekend staple poses a problem during Pessah, especially for Ashkenazim. The elements common to many cholent pots - meat, potatoes and onions - are fine; however, barley or wheat berries, which many people like in their usual cholent, are avoided on Pessah by both Ashkenazim and Sephardim. Beans or chickpeas, other standard cholent components during most of the year, come under the category of kitniyot, and although used by some Sephardim on Pessah, they are not allowed for Orthodox Ashkenazim. Those Sephardim who do eat kitniyot, and of course those who use rice, can certainly prepare a terrific pot of cholent during Pessah. But what's an Ashkenazi cook to do? He or she is left with meat and potatoes. Of course, meat, potatoes and onions do make delicious stews, and are a favorite combination among cooks from South America to Southeast Asia. But somehow, a meat-and-potato stew does not seem like full-fledged cholent. There needs to be something else. One good addition is the brown eggs, those eggs that many Israelis add in their shells to the pot so they turn firm and acquire a rich flavor. I first learned to do this from my Yemenite mother-in-law and noticed that many Sephardim followed this culinary custom. After she moved to Jerusalem from Washington, my Polish-born mother adopted it, as several of her friends did, once they discovered how delicious these eggs are. In my quest to come up with a tasty Pessah cholent, I thought of my mother's kneidlach, or matza balls. Usually they appeared in chicken soup but my mother sometimes put them in her tzimmes. When added to cholent, they contribute taste, texture and substance, either as individual balls or as a loaf of kneidlach mixture that slowly absorbs flavor as the cholent cooks, and then is sliced for serving. Meatballs or a sausage-shaped meat loaf are also good additions, to present meat in an additional texture besides the usual chunks of beef. Since the meatballs are separately seasoned, they help to vary the cholent's flavor too. Another way to add interest to the classic Shabbat entree is to add a cholent kugel. Normally it is made of grated vegetables held together by a seasoned dough of flour or cracker crumbs and oil (or chicken fat or margarine). For Pessah the dough is made from matza meal or potato starch. The mixture is shaped in a log, which cooks gently in the cholent and absorbs the tasty juices. Some call this kugel a vegetarian kishke. (In fact, you could add a real stuffed kishke or stuffed chicken skin, using the same mixture.) Of course, you can add vegetables if you don't mind that they become very soft. For my taste carrots are fine, especially if you choose very fat ones and leave them whole. Large whole mushrooms are good too. Chunks of eggplant become delicious from the meat juices, so I don't mind that they fall apart. Nira Rousso, author of The Passover Gourmet (in Hebrew), makes her Pessah hamin from chicken pieces and turkey gizzards cooked with beef bones, onion, potato and carrot, flavors it with salt, paprika and chicken fat and adds a Pessah kugel of grated potato and onion mixed with potato starch, matza meal, oil and salt. Matza balls are added to the cholent in The Kosher for Pesach Cookbook of Agudat Nashim L'ma'an Yeshivat Aish Hatorah, along with potatoes, salt, pepper and honey; the beef and onions are first browned for extra flavor. I like to make a spicy Ashkenazi-Yemenite cholent using the Ashkenazi matza balls or vegetarian kishke along with Yemenite seasonings and, of course, brown eggs. PESSAH CHOLENT/HAMIN WITH MUSHROOMS AND MATZA BALLS This cholent features beef, small potatoes, and matza balls and is seasoned generously with onions, garlic, cumin, turmeric, salt and pepper. If you like, you can also add Easy Kishke (see recipe below). 1 kg. to 1.25 kg. beef chuck (shoulder meat) 8 to 16 small boiling potatoes, peeled 2 large onions, cut in thick slices 225 gr. to 350 gr. mushrooms, whole 8 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped 11⁄2 tsp. salt 1⁄2 tsp. black pepper, or more to taste 2 Tbsp. ground cumin 4 tsp. turmeric 8 eggs in shells, rinsed matza balls (see recipe below) Preheat oven to 95º. Trim excess fat from beef and cut meat in 5-cm. pieces. In a large heavy casserole combine meat, potatoes, onions, mushrooms and garlic. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, cumin and turmeric; mix well. Add 6 cups water, or enough to cover. Bring to a boil. Simmer uncovered for 20 minutes. Add matza balls and, if necessary, enough simmering water so they are covered with liquid. Simmer for 20 more minutes. Remove from heat. Set eggs gently on top and push them slightly into liquid. Cover tightly and bake mixture, without stirring, overnight. Serve cholent from the casserole or a deep serving dish. Shell and halve eggs and set them on top for garnish. Serve kishke in cubes or slices. Makes about 8 servings. MATZA BALLS You can make the matza ball batter ahead and refrigerate it in a covered bowl up to 2 or 3 hours. Instead of cooking these kneidlach in cholent, you can cook them for 30 minutes in simmering salted water or in chicken soup, enough to generously cover, for serving in soups. 3 large eggs 1 cup matza meal pinch of salt pinch of pepper 1⁄4 tsp. kosher-for-Pessah baking powder (optional) about 3 Tbsp. chicken soup or water In a small bowl, lightly beat eggs. Add matza meal, salt, pepper and baking powder and stir with a fork until smooth. Last stir in chicken soup, adding enough so mixture is just firm enough to hold together in rough-shaped balls. With wet hands, take about 2 teaspoons of matza ball mixture and roll it between your palms to a ball; mixture will be very soft. Set ball on a plate. Continue making balls, wetting hands before shaping each one. Then cook them in the cholent, following the recipe above. Makes 25 to 30 small matza balls. EASY KISHKE This kishke is baked in foil instead of being stuffed into beef casings. Instead of using flour or crackers in the mixture, for Pessah you can use matza meal or, even better, crushed whole-wheat matza. If you'd like to serve it as a side dish instead of putting it in cholent, bake it for 1 hour. Serve it hot, in slices. Instead of one of the carrots, you can add a small sweet potato. 225 gr. matza, preferably whole wheat, broken in pieces 1⁄2 tsp. salt, or more to taste 1⁄2 tsp. black pepper 1⁄2 teaspoon sugar 1 tsp. paprika 1⁄2 tsp. dried thyme 2 large onions, cut in eighths 2 celery ribs 2 large carrots, cut in chunks 1⁄4 to 1⁄3 cup vegetable oil 2 to 3 Tbsp. chicken broth, vegetable broth or water (optional) Preheat oven to 175º. In a food processor, process the matza to fine crumbs. Remove to a bowl. Add salt, pepper, sugar, paprika and thyme. Add onions to processor and chop finely by pulsing. Peel any large strings from celery. Cut celery in chunks and add to processor. Add carrots and process to chop. Add oil and process to blend. Add vegetable mixture to bowl of crushed matza. Mix very well. If mixture is too dry to hold together, add, broth, water or a few teaspoons oil. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more salt if you like. Make 2 strips of foil, each about 38 cm. long and 25 cm. wide. Arrange kishke mixture in 2 long rolls of about 4- to 5-cm. diameter on center of each piece of foil. Wrap tightly in foil. Set the rolls on a baking sheet. Bake for about 30 minutes. At this point, you have two choices: A) You can bake the mixture for 30 minutes more so it is done; then serve it hot, in slices. B) If you'd like to put it in the cholent, unwrap it after baking it for 30 minutes and let cool slightly. Cut in 2 or 3 chunks or more so it fits easily in the cholent pot. Add it to cholent just before putting the pot in the oven. Makes about 8 servings. Faye Levy is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes.