I often host the oneg (oneg means celebration, but because it is around 12:30 to me it means lunch) at my synagogue on Saturday. I belong to a is a small, independent, liberal congregation, and my favorite onegs to host are after the lay-led service, which we have once a month. The people that lead these are some of my favorite people in the congregation. And the people who attend appreciate a good meal, and there tend to be fewer of them than at the services the rabbi leads.
I love to feed people. And after being in a rousing, musical service for two hours, the congregation loves to eat. In keeping with the spirit of this congregation, I serve traditional food with modern twists. I brought a cholent–but it was vegan, with soy products instead of meat–and a kugel–but a vegetable kugel, light and flavorful. I also brought challah and crackers and guacamole, and some fruit and cheese and raw veggies and cookies, but that was the easy part.
Among the many thanks and praises, I got a request for a recipe for the ‘bean casserole.’
‘ Bean casserole? ‘
It was a cholent! But I shouldn’t be surprised. I got more than one blank stare when I said I was bringing a ‘cholent’ December. If you had forgotten (or never knew), cholent is a one-pot meal based on beans and potatoes and usually meat, that stays in the oven overnight and is eaten for lunch on Shabbat and holidays, where one is not allowed to cook after the sun goes down the previous night. In Europe, people assembled their cholent dishes Friday afternoon and took them to the local baker and put them in his oven, to cook at low heat all night and morning and be fetched back to the house in time for lunch. It is a way to get a hot meal without lighting a fire and is found in Jewish cooking, in one form or another all over the world. For many, Cholent is a real comfort food-and for most, very conducive to a late afternoon nap.
So I put my cholent together with beans and barley and rice (traditional) onions (traditional), pareve soup mix, ketchup and diced tomatoes (modern Orthodox traditional–I learned that from my cousin Zahava) and soy products–fake Canadian bacon and hot dogs (very California). I put it in a big glass roasting pan and sealed the pan with dough and cooked it overnight, and brought it in to the synagogue, and then, in response to the blank stares,had to explain what Cholent was in 5 seconds.
“Just think of it as Jewish Chili.” I said.