Sunday, February 15, 2004

I woke from my Shabbat afternoon nap yesterday to find Jerusalem under a blanket of snow. Actually it was probably more like a sheet of the stuff - only a couple of centimetres deep but that was immediately deemed to be enough for the schools to call a snow day and the Mayor to announce a snow man competition.

Counting on more snow coming down last night to prevent me from making it to the office this morning, I trudged into town to meet a friend over a couple of beers. Shanty, a charming little pub hidden just out of site of the Ben Yehuda precinct in a lovely old building hosted our little soiree. It turned out to be the first time my friend, hailing from California, had seen this much snow. Last week's earthquake in contrast, was not even considered to be worthy of comment. We were joined by a friend of hers from the States - a Conservative Rabbi here on a conference and proceeded to put the world to rights over a couple of beers.

It had been a bitterly cold couple of days and had seemed a perfect opportunity to prepare the first Cholent of the season. Cholent, together with chopped liver and gefilte fish makes up the holy trinity of kosher foods. Jewish Law (Halacha) forbids certain acts of work on Shabbat. Cooking is amongst the tasks that is strictly prohibited and every Jewish community around the world therefore developed its own variation of a dish which is cooked before Shabbat and then left to keep hot in an oven or on a hot plate until lunch time. Sephardi Jews (North African origin) eat Hamin or A'dafina; Ashkenazi Jews (European origin) eat Cholent. The route of the word is uncertain; one of the most accepted explanations is that it comes from the French Chaud Lent (Hot, slow) although it has also been suggested that it is a bastardisation of "Shul end".

Cholent is traditionally made with beans, potatoes, beef and bones but in fact everyone has their own variation. I use plenty of onions and garlic, a good piece of beef, potatos, sweet potatos, barley, date honey and kishke (stuffed intestine - a glorified sausage) together with various herbs and spices and either wine, beer or stock as the cooking liquid. The aroma pervades the house for a full 24 hours as I generally start cooking early in the day on Friday.

It comes out differently every time but this week was superb. The meat, having cooked for a full day can be eaten with a spoon; the date honey gives the dish an amazing golden brown hue and the smell is wonderful - manna from heaven. Served with some French mustard and a cold beer it is the ultimate winter fuel and the left overs can be blitzed into a tasty soup - although an old friend regularly gets his Sunday mornings off to a fighting start by digging into the leftovers for breakfast.

This morning the roads were clear enough to get to work (of course). Damn that beer!


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