A Cholent is a traditional East European Jewish sabbath stew (There is a Sephardic equivalent called Hamin/Chamim). Since there was no cooking (or work, or lighting fires) allowed on the sabbath, a heavy dish of meat, grains and beans was taken to the baker just before sundown on Friday and placed in the oven with the remaining fires of the day. It cooked slowly overnight and could be eaten the next day. The name Cholent is believed to derive either from the old French Chaud (hot) and Lent (slow) or from the old french Chalant (hot or warm) The Jews of France were expelled in 1306, then allowed to return in 1315 and expelled again in 1394. Most went to Germany (Where they began using the German language, the forerunner of Yiddish.) They then migrated to Eastern Europe and are known as Ashkenazi from the Hebrew word for Germany. Sephardic Jews are descended from the Jews of Spain who were expelled in 1492 and scattered around the Mediterranean. The ingredients can be varied, it is pretty hard to not make this dish come out right as long as you have the patience for long slow cooking times. Like many stews, the flavors just get better the next day.
2 pds. beef, cut into small cubes (Almost any cut will do. East European Jews were generally very poor and made do with whatever was available. Hence this is a dish mostly of beans, grains and vegetables that was meant to feed a large family on very little.)
1 cup (or more) beans, soaked overnight. I use a mixture of great northern and kidney, but almost any beans will do.
2-3 onions, chopped
10 or more garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup barley and/or rye (or other grains if you prefer)
3 tomatoes, chopped (or use a can of chopped tomatoes)
3-4 celery sticks, chopped,
2-3 carrots, peeled and chopped.
1 turnip, chopped
2-3 potatoes, peeled and chopped
6 cups water and/or stock, more if needed
3 tbsp vegetable oil (or butter, if you're not Jewish and observant)
Salt, pepper and paprika, to taste
You will need an oven proof dish of at least 5 quarts, 6 is better. A dutch oven is best, or something that can go from stovetop to oven. If you don't have one you can start out in a large pot and move the ingredients to your baking dish before placing in the oven.
Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Place vegetable oil in pan on medium heat. If you have a lot of fat on the beef you can trim it and place it in the pot until it is rendered. If you do this you can use less oil. Remove fat from pot and place the beef in, in batches if necessary, turning until browned. (The crispy fat pieces can be placed in the stew if they are big enough to be distinguishable from the beef and removed later. Otherwise I generally keep a large Tibetan Mastiff around who is quite happy to dispose of any leftover fat.) Remove beef and deglaze with a little wine or water if needed. Add onions and cook until translucent (10 minutes or so). Add garlic and stir for a few minutes. Add all other ingredients as well as seasoning and stir. The liquid should cover the stew. Place in the oven and bake for 5-6 hours or more. For this dish, longer is better. After 3 hours it is best to check if it needs more water every hour or two. If you want to add dumplings place them in the dish towards the end. You can also add sour cream just before serving. (If you're Jewish and observant pretend you didn't read that. Since I'm not I find that there's almost nothing Hungarian that isn't improved with a little sour cream. The Hungarians seem to agree.)