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Published on Apr 26, 2010
Yeshiva University students held a Cholent Cook-off on Thursday, March 11, 2010, sponsored by the housing office. Fifteen teams of four students at Yeshiva College, the mens undergraduate school, prepared their dishes the night before. The next afternoon, a panel of discriminating palates crowned the winner.
Cholent, for hundreds of years the traditional Sabbath-day meal for observant Jews in many countries, is a food for which there is no standard recipe; its ingredients are as diverse as the places where Jews have lived. A slow-cooked stew containing meat, vegetables, potatoes, beans and spices, it is one of the quintessential Jewish comfort foods and a dish that many look forward to from Sabbath to Sabbath.
Cholent in its various forms evolved from a combination of Jewish law and economic circumstances. Jewish law prohibits cooking on the Sabbath, from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday. In order to have a hot lunch on the Sabbath, Jews prepare the cholent a one-pot dish before the start of the Sabbath and let it cook overnight. Today, a slow cooker or crock pot is often used. Historically, in the Jewish towns of Europe, a community oven or the oven of the local baker was used.
Economic circumstances dictated ingredients when meat was scarce or too expensive the cholent would contain more starch, usually beans and potatoes. When times were good, more meat would be added to the dish. In some countries, beef is favored; in others, chicken. In Sephardic communities, whole vegetables such as eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes and peppers are used, as well as rice and lamb or mutton. Where Ashkenazi Jews use salt, garlic, pepper and paprika, Sephardic Jews use cumin, hot peppers and pistachio nuts.
The word cholent and its pronunciations also vary. Ashkenazi Jews from Central and Eastern Europe call it cholent, sholet or shalet, but Sephardic Jews know it as chamin, a word that is probably French in origin. http://www.yu.edu/stern/