Food: A cholent menu for a chilly Shabbat

I like to serve cooked vegetables that can double as starters or as side dishes.

eggplant relish_521 (photo credit: (Bill Hogan/ Chicago Tribune/MCT))
eggplant relish_521
(photo credit: (Bill Hogan/ Chicago Tribune/MCT))
Few entrees are as welcome on a chilly Shabbat afternoon as a hot bowl of cholent. With the tempting aroma of the slow-cooked meat that permeates the beans, potatoes, barley and whatever else you put into the pot, a good cholent is comfort food at its best.
Although cholent can be fairly healthy if it is made with a generous proportion of beans, it is nevertheless calorie-dense. If that’s all there is on the table, a plateful can add up to a substantial amount of food and makes overeating inevitable.
Because cholent is so filling, I prefer something light to accompany it. Vegetables are the obvious choice. Eating vegetables as an appetizer leaves room to enjoy the cholent and helps lessen the tendency to eat too much.
Israeli salad or green salad is a good accompaniment, as it is fresh and light and provides a crunchy texture to contrast with the soft components of the cholent. Yet in winter I want something more.
I like to serve cooked vegetables that can double as starters or as side dishes. I opt mostly for non-starchy vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, eggplant or zucchini. Depending on the weather, I might serve them as cold appetizers. To take the chill off, I remove them from the refrigerator an hour before serving so they will come to room temperature; you can also warm them slightly on a Shabbat hot plate or in a low oven. Vegetables moistened with olive oil taste better this way than refrigerator-cold.
The Italian kitchen has a good selection of this type of cooked vegetable appetizer. Adei-Wizo’s La Cucina Nella Tradizione Hebraica, a book on the cooking of the Jews of Italy, recommends serving eggplant caponata alla giudia (Jewish style) for Shabbat. My recipe (see below) is lighter than their traditional version, which calls for flouring and deep frying diced eggplant, and then simmering it in a sweetand- sour tomato sauce with sauteed celery, carrot, onion and basil. Capers and olives provide pungency. Hard boiled eggs are suggested as a garnish, which is fine for other occasions, but on Shabbat I’d rather have the eggs in my cholent.
Adei-Wizo’s Italian sweet-and-sour carrots with raisins and pine nuts would also make a pleasing pre-cholent appetizer. So would their tomato-sauce-stewed celery with olive oil, which is served cold, or their braised cabbage with garlic, onions and rosemary from the northeastern region of Veneto.
Rosetta Costantino, author of My Calabria (with Janet Fletcher), presents flavorful vegetable dishes from her region, at the toe of the Italian boot very near Sicily, that I enjoy as Shabbat starters. To make winter salads she uses cooked hearty greens, cauliflower, broccoli rabe (a slightly bitter kind of broccoli) or potatoes, and notes that all follow roughly the same format: “The vegetable is boiled until tender, drained well and then dressed to taste with fruity olive oil, kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper and a liberal dose of strong wine vinegar. The result is a refreshing, palate-invigorating dish.”
Her salad of cooked red onions – either boiled or roasted – is dressed with olive oil, red wine vinegar and either chopped fresh mint or dried oregano. She adds garlic to a similar olive oil-vinegar-mint dressing and uses it to marinate fried butternut squash slices. The same sauce serves as a marinade for cooked eggplant, with an extra flavor boost from sliced fresh hot peppers.
Faye Levy is the author of Faye Levy’s International Jewish Cookbook.
Makes 6 servings.
This colorful tangy salad, a great Shabbat appetizer, gains most of its flavor from pantry ingredients. You can make it ahead; it keeps for four or five days in the refrigerator.
Usually caponata contains a large amount of oil. This version is quite low in fat; if you prefer a richer caponata, use 4 tablespoons of olive oil.
700 gr. eggplant, preferably Chinese or Japanese, unpeeled 2 to 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil 1 medium onion, halved and sliced thin 2 celery stalks, sliced thin salt and freshly ground pepper 1 cup tomato sauce (225 gr.) a 400-gr. can diced tomatoes, drained 1 to 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar 1 to 2 tsp. sugar 1⁄3 to 1⁄2 cup pitted green olives, halved 2 Tbsp. capers, rinsed 2 Tbsp. raisins (optional) 1 to 2 Tbsp. pine nuts (optional)
Cut eggplant in 2.5-cm. dice. Heat oil in a large heavy nonstick skillet or saute pan. Add onion and celery and saute over medium heat 5 minutes. Add eggplant, salt and pepper and saute over medium-high heat, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add tomato sauce and tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook over medium-low heat 10 minutes. Add vinegar, 1 teaspoon sugar, olives, capers, raisins and pine nuts. Cover and simmer over low heat, stirring often, 10 minutes or until eggplant is tender. Taste, adjust seasoning and add remaining sugar if needed. Serve cold or at room temperature.
Makes 6 servings.
This recipe is from My Calabria by Rosetta Costantino. She notes that her parents dress this salad with only olive oil and vinegar, but she adds anchovies and black olives. You can make this salad several hours in advance and keep it at room temperature.
Large head cauliflower, about 900 gr.Kosher salt 1⁄4 cup extra virgin olive oil 2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar, or more to taste 4 anchovy fillets, coarsely chopped (optional) 4 or 5 dry-cured black olives, pitted and quartered Freshly ground black pepper
Separate the cauliflower into florets, discarding the thick core. If the florets are large, cut them in half. They should all be about the same size so they will cook evenly.
Bring 5 liters of water to a boil in an 8-liter pot. Add 1⁄4 cup kosher salt and the cauliflower and let boil until tender but not mushy, 3 minutes or so. To avoid breaking up the florets, lift them out of the water with a strainer or slotted spoon and place them in a colander to cool.
Gently put the cooled florets in a serving bowl and add the olive oil, vinegar, anchovies and olives. Season with salt and pepper and toss well. Cauliflower takes a great deal of seasoning so don’t be afraid to add more oil, vinegar, salt or pepper until it is just right. Marinate for at least 15 minutes before serving.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
My mother, Pauline Kahn Luria, lived in Jerusalem for many years. Over time her way of making cholent changed to a hybrid of Ashkenazi and Sephardi styles. Sometimes she added a touch of cumin to the basic Ashkenazi seasoning mixture of salt, pepper and paprika. She also adopted my Yemen-born mother in law’s custom of putting eggs on top so they brown.
My mother felt that to make good cholent, it is important to include both white and brown beans and barley. Often she browned the onions to add more flavor.
I prefer chicken legs and thighs to breasts because they retain better texture during the long cooking. If you like, remove the skin from the chicken before cooking the cholent. However, leaving the skin on and removing it before serving will give a richer tasting cholent because some of the fat from the chicken skin will blend into the sauce.
1.8 kg. chicken pieces
1 to 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 large onions, cut in thick slices
1 tsp. paprika
1⁄2 tsp. ground cumin (optional)
1⁄4 tsp. ground black pepper
3⁄4 cup navy beans or other white beans
3⁄4 cup brown beans or red kidney beans
1 cup barley
6 to 8 fairly small boiling potatoes
1⁄2 tsp. salt
6 to 8 eggs in shells, rinsed
Preheat oven to 80º to 95º. Pull excess fat off chicken; remove skin if you like. Heat oil in a large stew pan or casserole. Add onions and saute over medium-high heat, stirring often, until they begin to brown; they don’t need to soften. Remove from heat. Add chicken to casserole and sprinkle with paprika, cumin and pepper. Mix well.
Sort through and rinse the beans and barley; add to casserole. Peel potatoes if you like. Add to pan and sprinkle them with salt. Add about 10 cups water or enough to cover ingredients by 5 cm. Bring to a boil. Cover and cook over very low heat for 20 to 30 minutes. Set eggs gently on top of stew and push them slightly into liquid.
Cover tightly and bake mixture, without stirring, overnight. Serve hot.