The Rains came. Now they've gone but for a week it looked as if the drought might end and Cholent Season might be underway.
I am a very seasonal cook. Summers are barbecue and fruit salad (or other salads--green, Arab, kruv, egg, potato, pasta and so forth...oftentimes several on the table at once). Oftentimes the kiddush is chalavi, with simply fish and salads and this allows me to serve oddles of cheese on the salads or as a spread.
Winter is different. Winter needs cholent (or as our Sephardi relatives and friends call it, "chult"). Cholent is a slow-cooked stew. Too many Ashkenazi households I've visited (okay, not the Hungarians--they know how to cook!) serve beans with some meat and ketchup.
My guys would turn up their noses if I brought that to the table. Californians like a little more heat in their food, like the Moroccans.
Cholent in my house is a layer of frozen garbanzo beans and white beans, with beer poured over the top for openers. Add meat (I use #8) which has been browned with at least one onion--two is better. Toss this on top of the beans and beer with one or two hot red peppers and an entire head of garlic, top sliced open to let out the flavors. Add however many quartered potato pieces you think your family will eat. In Israel, use the yellow potatoes, not the red--the latter get too mushy. Many households add eggs, but since I'm the only one who really likes slow-cooked eggs, I don't usually bother. A proper cholent also has barley in it, but again, I love barley but the guys don't, so I usually omit it. Sprinkle a generous amount of baharat (or allspice if you can't find baharat), cumin, Madras curry and turmeric over the stew. Don't forget salt and pepper. Green tomatillos in their juice is also good if you have them. Throw in a handful of dried red pepper flakes if you want to make sure its really charif. Add chicken broth and water to cover the ingrediants. Cook in a crock pot overnight. I start mine on "high" around 1pm to make sure its mostly cooked before Shabbat begins. Then put it on low to keep until kiddush on Shabbat day.
Now THAT's a cholent. Guaranteed to warm you up on the coldest days. And sitting on the edge of the Judean desert, we have extremely cold days like most high desert lands. Our springs and falls are long and lovely; our summers are bearable because they are dry. But the winter is a killer. It's better when it rains because then the cold is ameliorated and doesn't chill the bones the way the the dry cold days of recent winters have.
Cholent has an ancient history and is found everywhere, although by different names: hamin in the Maghrebi communities; daube and cassoulet in France; chili con carne. Among Jews, it was essential to have a meal that could be assembled in advance, mostly cooked and then left to stew in the embers of one's fire or the communal oven after Shabbat started, since lighting a fire on Shabbat is forbidden.
Now, we're back to a long, lovely autumnal period that's crisp in the mornings and nights, cool in the evenings and perfect during the day. And totally bereft of rain. We need the rain. This isn't even a political question--the land needs the rain, the farmers need the rains, the Jews, the Moslems, the Christians, the Druze, the Bahai---we all need the rain.
May the rains come again and soon...and I will celebrate with a spicy cholent.