April 18, 2024
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April 18, 2024
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Is cholent an appetizer, a side dish or an entrée? That is a complicated question, one which—like cholent itself—should be allowed to simmer and stew.

Cholent essentially is a well-balanced dish featuring beans, barley, potatoes and meat, and it can pop up at almost any point during a meal. Indeed, there often is no rhyme or reason as to when cholent is served, so categorizing it will not be easy. Since a proper five-course meal includes an appetizer, soup, salad, main course and dessert, we will consider those possibilities and a few others.

  1. Is cholent an appetizer?

No. An appetizer is served at a meal’s outset and, like its name suggests, is designed to stimulate your appetite. In theory, anything can be an appetizer if served before the main course. In practice, however, an appetizer should be of appropriate size because the goal is to whet, not ruin, an appetite. Thus, small steak bites or chicken nuggets might be appropriate appetizers but a full Porterhouse or Cornish hen would not. Yes, cholent can be served in small portions but even a tiny amount can be awfully filling, making it less of an appetizer and more of a satisfier. Technically, an appetizer also can be served in liquid form and when it’s alcoholic, it is known as an aperitif. Yes, some people put beer in their cholent but that does mean that such cholent is an aperitif. It simply means that such cholent and driving do not mix.

  1. 2. Is cholent salad?

No and don’t be silly. Obviously, cholent is not a salad. In fact, it arguably is the antithesis of a salad. It is not cold, crispy or refreshing; it is hot, loose and nap-inducing.

  1. Is cholent soup?

No, cholent is not soup. Yes, cholent is akin to a stew but a stew and soup are not the same thing. What’s my proof? Well, there must be a reason that restaurants offer “soup or salad” but never offer “stew or salad.”

  1. Is cholent an entrée?

Maybe. Originally, the term “entrée” referred to the dish that immediately preceded the main course because it literally was the entry into the heart of the meal. Nowadays, however, the entrée and main course are synonymous. Anything can be served as an entrée but not everything should be. Gum is not a proper entrée and neither is ketchup. Cholent, especially the meaty kind, could easily qualify as an entrée but is not always served as such.

  1. Is cholent a side dish?

Perhaps. A side dish is served with and is intended to supplement and complement the main course. Unfortunately, the term “side dish” can be used pejoratively to refer to something that is secondary and thus is not the main attraction. For example, if a head rabbi is the main course, then the assistant rabbi arguably is a side dish. If the shul president is the main course, then the vice president is a side dish. In many instances, cholent is served on the side of a primary protein like brisket, roast beef, schnitzel or turkey. In those instances, cholent is not the main attraction. It’s merely a side dish.

  1. Is cholent a dessert?

No but before you snicker and scoff, consider that a cholent brûlée would not be altogether crazy and a cholent tart might be less insane than it sounds. That said, cholent popsicles would be a step too far and cholent mousse could easily ruin an otherwise lovely meal. (For the record, I believe a store in Queens [on the very
kosher stretch of Main Street] used to sell cholent-flavored ice cream. But, no, they were not also selling gribenes-flavored sprinkles.)

  1. So, what is cholent?

If you haven’t figured it out by now, it’s a trick question. Given its versatility, cholent can be just about anything and it depends not on what’s in the cholent or how it’s cooked. The key is portion and timing. If you serve cholent in small quantities to begin the meal, then it’s an appetizer. If you increase serving size and offer it mid-meal, then it’s an entrée. If you end the meal by slamming a piping-hot crockpot down on the table and challenging your guests to an impromptu, messy and possibly painful game of “Bobbing for Cholent,” then you may have some serious issues that fall outside the scope of this article.

  1. Does this analysis really change anything?

We may not know until 120 years from now. Speaking of 120 years, keep in mind the famous Yiddish expression regarding cholent: “Az men est tsholnt biz hundert un tsvantsik lebt ent lang.” Translation: “If you eat cholent for 120 years, you’ll live a long life.”

Final thought: It is better to receive cholent from a crockpot than a crackpot.

By Jon Kranz


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