Our new assignment was to cook something that we’ve never cooked before and talk about this practice in relation to the immigrants’ experiences in the States.
This was very interesting for me for a number of reasons:
First, believe it or not, I have never made a cholent. My kitchen is very small and I have always been reluctant to buy a slow cooker for fear that I have no space for it anyway. So my Shabbos lunch would always mean a blech, hot kitchen and tons of questions on the laws of reheating: yad soledet bo and the like. Nightmare all in all. But, I just got a brand new KitchenAid slow cooker for my birthday from my niece and nephew-in-law!!! Yey for the best family! I would have never bought it myself. I had to try it.
Second, I am an immigrant and the abundance of kosher food here in Brooklyn is so remarkable to me that I do feel a little like the people Hasia Diner is talking about in her book “Hungering for America”. When my family started to observe kashrut a couple of years before we emigrated, the only place to buy kosher meat was the main synagogue. And that meat did not even resemble the lamb shanks I had for the cholent. And here comes another mix. My family is Ashkenazi, but my husband was born in Derbent, a small town on the Caspian Sea near Baku (Azerbaijan, presently a separate country), where quite a few remnants of Ashkenazi families settles among Tat (Gorsky or Caucasian Jews, that trace their wanderings to the times of the exile after the First Temple Destruction), so we have quite a bit of Sephardi-like preferences in our food. Therefore, the recipe may sound weird a little, but here it goes. I took:
2 lamb shanks
½ cup dried white beans
¼ cup barley
3 cloves of garlic
A bit of herbes de provence
A dash of cumin
1 bay leaf
A dash of dried basil
About half a cup dry red wine
About half a cup tomato paste
Firstly, I put the beans to soak before I went to work Friday morning. When I came home, I put the olive oil in a skillet and browned the shanks on the high heat. Then added the onion, sautéed a bit, added garlic and cut up vegetables and cooked just for a bit with wine, maybe 3 to 4 minutes. Since I was very short on time before Shabbos (cholent needs to be at least 30% done before the start of Shabbos), I had to rush, otherwise I probably would have taken the time to remove the shanks and deal with vegetables separately.
Then I put everything together in the slow cooker, added some water and put it on high for about 50 minutes, which gave me enough time, then set it on low and …..
Voila – Cholent!
For my first try it actually turned out quite tasty, I did not even have to salt or pepper it more