Mmm. What’s that Smell

Mmm. What’s that Smell?
Rabbi Marc Soloway, Congregation Bonai Shalom

What is chullent, and why do we make it? Well, it all begins with the prohibition of cooking on Shabbat for observant Jews, which is derived from the Torah and extended by the rabbis. So, the challenge is to find a way of being able to eat yummy, hot food at Kiddush on Shabbat morning or for lunch, without violating this practice.

A tradition emerged in many communities of families putting together a specially marked pots filled with beans, vegetables, meat, eggs or pretty much whatever they had left over from the week! Each family would take these pots on Friday afternoon to a communal oven, usually at the local baker’s, which would be left on all Shabbat, and they would leave it in there until Saturday morning when one of the children would go and collect the hot dish.

Different cultures developed different styles of chullent – some hot and spicy, different kinds of beans, different vegetables, unique to the environment of that particular Jewish community. Sefardim often call it Hamim (meaning hot dish) and the word chullent comes from the Ashkenazi world. It is actually derived from two French words, chaud and lent, meaning hot and slow, which speaks for itself.

In theory, the contents should be cooked enough to be edible before Shabbat begins and then it can carry on cooking and cooking, slowly simmering. The advent of Slow Cookers, better known as Crock Pots has made chullent cooking far easier. We just throw in the ingredients with enough seasoned liquid and spices and turn it on low and let it do its thing. The chullents can be made meat, vegetarian, even vegan and are all equally delicious. If you want to try your hand at this flavorful dish Shabbat, only one thing remains – the recipe!

Sweet potatoes
White beans (soaked overnight and partially cooked)
Paprika (a generous scoop)
Plenty of salt and pepper to taste
BBQ Sauce (gives it a nice strong, meaty flavor)
Vegetable broth
Shabbat blessings

Peel and dice the root vegetables, chop onions and garlic and place all the ingredients together in your crock pot, with as much or as little spice and seasoning as you like. Some people add an extra whole onion in its skin, some add eggs, us Brits like to flavor it with Marmite (don’t ask) – it’s really a culinary improvisation! The most important ingredient of all, though, is the intention that goes into it, that it nourish our bodies and souls on Shabbat. There is a special formula we say when cooking for Shabbat; “lichvod Shabbat haKodesh – for the honor of the Holy Sabbath,” which we add to the food to give it that extra, mysterious, sweet flavor of Shabbos.