The Wonders of Cholent

I observe the yahrzeit (anniversary of death) for my mother of blessed memory next Friday. So when Batya of Me-ander suggested I write about leftovers, I thought this post would be a fitting tribute. I hope to write more about my mother’s legacy to me in the coming week.

My mother never wasted food. Well, I am exaggerating a bit. Every two or three months, she would take out a jar of cooked rice from the back of the refrigerator and throw it away. And you never noticed that you were being served leftovers; in fact the menu was almost always varied in texture and color, nutritionally balanced, perfectly done, and tasty. She merged the Eastern European culinary tradition with New World techniques and ingredients. Whereas most older women tend to stick to a routine menu, she tried new things all the time. My mother didn’t make cholent for many years, because my father claimed to have eaten it every day when he learned in yeshiva in Europe as a child. Eventually he came to enjoy it again.

Cholent is great fresh but less appetizing the next day. I have heard that some people throw out leftover cholent, even though it might contain a large quantity of expensive beef. Needless to say I don’t approve of this practice!

Cholent, or chamin in Hebrew, is a dish that was found in every Jewish community throughout the world. Each culture found its own way to prepare a meal for the Sabbath morning that would still be edible after cooking slowly on the stove or in the oven from before sundown on Friday. The dish must be prepared before the start of the Sabbath, and can’t be stirred or uncovered until mealtime. In the winter, that often means close to 24 hours of cooking. Many communities maintained a communal oven, where each family would bring the cholent pot on Friday afternoon. The modern crockpot, with its slow-cooking ability, has been a welcome invention to the world of cholent.

We’ll start with my own cholent recipe, at least the cholent I happened to put into my seven-quart crockpot an hour or two ago. It’s never exactly the same. This week I put in three sad-looking carrots, a few celery stalks, one-and-a-half sliced onions, a slice of turnip, two garlic cloves, two bay leaves, a handful of cooked beans, a half-cup of barley, the rest of the chili from last night, 7 or 8 potatoes (peel them or not, your choice), a few tablespoons of whole oatmeal, and two turkey drumsticks. Really, any cholent will come out good if you have a small amount of meat. Beef is better, but turkey wings, drumsticks, or “shwarma” (thigh) are a good substitute. I personally prefer cold chicken to chicken crockpotted overnight, but my husband, as a single, once was called out of town to read the Megillah and returned to eat the contents of his crockpot chicken several days later. He says it was great. I’ve served chili as cholent (thereby confusing one guest who pointed out that it was hot), but I generally avoid using ground meat. How much water to add depends on the ingredients; today, because of the raw barley and potatoes today I added about three cups. With enough fat in the meat cholent will still turn out great even if all the extra water evaporates, although it might be a little crunchy on the top. Sometimes it’s even better that way.

As you have seen, cholent is an excellent way to dispose of cooked and raw foods that would otherwise be headed for the garbage in another day or two. A soft tomato? Wilted celery? A few spoonfuls of marinara sauce or leftover soup? No problem!! The cholent will magically transform ho-hum ingredients into a delicious concoction that will have your Sabbath guests raving.

What about the leftovers? First of all, plan ahead. If your family (or your guests or neighbors) don’t like leftover cholent, don’t make too much!! If you serve your guests cold cuts, kugel, and salads they are not going to consume too much cholent. So make enough for everyone to have one serving plus a little extra. Also, think about the ingredients that tend to be left. If your family’s not crazy about beans, put in only a few. If you plan to freeze it, avoid extra potatoes.

In our family we happily eat leftover cholent. It can also be frozen for a quick meal or side dish, although the potatoes might come out a bit mushy.

Here are a few ideas for creative use of extra cholent.

  • My mother put leftover cholent back in the next week. After the Sabbath she would heat it to boiling, put it in a jar, cover with a pot cover until cooled, screw on the cover and put it in the back of the refrigerator. This works with soup too; the layer of fat keeps air out and prevents bacteria from getting in. When you take it out you can throw away the solid layer of fat on the top. Or you could take the easy way out and freeze it. It won’t keep for a week when simply placed in a plastic container.
  • Soup. A classic use of leftovers. Small amounts of cholent, raw or cooked vegetables, gravy and other tidbits can be stored in a container in the freezer and added to from time to time. Non-cholent-related note: To make the most of pan drippings from roasted meat, pour boiling water on the pan and transfer the water and drippings into a jar. You can then refrigerate and remove the fat, but not until you are ready to use it. You are left with one of the most delicious additions to any cooked dish or soup. A soup that contains almost exclusively cholent will not go over well with the customers who don’t like the straight leftovers in the first place.
  • Calzones. I got this idea from an email list for Jewish women. Roll out pizza dough and cut it in squares. Put a spoonful of cholent in each one, fold the dough over to make a triangle, and bake. You can add a slice of fresh vegetable or some salsa or spices too.
  • Shepherd’s pie. The classic version consists of a layer of gravy and sauteed vegetables, a layer of leftover chopped up meat, and a layer of mashed potatoes on top, baked in the oven. The cholent could be used for one (or more, if you feel like sorting it) of the layers.
  • Chili. Just add the leftovers to any chili recipe.

Baroness Tapuzina on Cholent

Thanks to Batya for the inspiration and Shabbat Shalom!

If you enjoyed this post you may also like:

The Day is Short and the Work is Great: Efficient Shabbat Preparations

Cooking with Our Mothers, Cooking with Our Children


  1. Good ideas! The Shephards Pie is my fav.

  2. SephardiLady says

    Because we don’t want cholent leftovers, we rarely make it unless we are having a bunch of guests, and then I make the cholent the main dish so there won’t be much leftover. I might serve a steamed veggie and a salad for side dishes.

    I’ve heard of cholent burritos, but they don’t interest me. The calzone idea sounds much more appetizing.

  3. kollelmama says

    Interesting…I come from a home where noone tolerates leftovers. Unfortunately I think I have brought that into my own home, although we generally don’t have much left over.I usually cook enough for how ever many people we are having. The rest goes for my baby’s lunch during the week.

  4. Give me:

    Chulent (with lots of beans, potatoes, and not too much beef- oh, and no barley, please)

    Yerushalmi Kugel

    Israeli Pickles

    Now that’s a great Shabbat lunch!

  5. SephardiLady says

    KollelMama-Have you tried serving leftover soup? That tends to pass as fresh much easier than other leftovers.

  6. mother in israel says

    Thanks Elisheva!
    SL–that’s a good idea.
    KM–When it’s just the two of you it’s easier, although you never know how much your guests will eat. It sounds like you’re good at planning quantities. My mother a”h excelled at that as well.
    RR– That is a real Israeli Shabbat lunch. I can’t figure out, though, why Blogger didn’t email me about your message.

  7. SephardiLady says

    I make double and triple batches of some very hearty soups. Served with challah, we call these soups “a meal in a bowl.” They pass so easily for fresh or freeze brillantly for future meals. and the cost is low, esp. when you buy produce in season.

    I think it is a good idea to break in the family to leftovers where possible. So much less goes to waste. Give lefover soup a try. Chances are that nobody will know it was served before. Even Barley does fine in soup leftovers. . . just add more water and maybe a touch of extra seasoning when reheating since it absorbs water.