Cholent


Schalet is the food of heaven,
Which the Lord Himself taught Moses
How to cook, when on that visit
To the summit of Mount Sinai…

Schalet is the pure ambrosia
That the food of heaven composes—
Is the bread of Paradise;
And compared with food so glorious…

From the poem Princess Sabbath by Heinrich Heine,
translated by Edgar Alfred Bowring

The History of Cholent

Since Biblical times the Jewish people have scattered and settled all over the globe, adapting their foods to suit the regions where they’ve settled. Over the centuries countless regional ethnic dishes have been made kosher to fit the Jewish religious standards for pure eating. This means that “Jewish food” is really world cuisine; there are very few dishes that are uniquely Jewish. Bagels? A Polish baked bread originally created for Lent and later embraced by the Jews. Gefilte fish? A German dish adopted by Yiddish cooks. But cholent– well, cholent is one of the few foods that is totally and completely a Jewish creation.

In Joan Nathan’s fabulous book Jewish Cooking in America, she writes about this distinction:

“Throughout their wandering history, Jews have adapted their life-styles to the local culture. Food is no exception. Following the same dietary laws, Jews, relying on local ingredients, developed regional flavors. Because they have lived in so many places, there is no ‘Jewish food’ other than matzah; haroset (the Passover spread); or cholent or chamim (the Sabbath stews that surface in different forms in every land where Jews have lived).”

Cholent is uniquely Jewish. It was created because Jewish law does not permit cooking on Shabbat. To adhere to this prohibition, Jewish cooks began to create meat and bean stews in heavy pots that would slowly simmer inside a low-heat oven overnight. They would prepare the stew on Friday before sundown, cook it partially, and place it into the oven to continue cooking throughout the night. That way, there would be no need to kindle a fire or light a stove during the hours of Shabbat; they would simple remove the stew from the oven at mealtime and it would be fully cooked and ready to serve.

Cholent is partially cooked before the Shababt candle lighting at sundown on Friday evening, then placed in the over to slowly finish cooking overnight.

How did this whole slow-cooking idea come about? Well, when researching the history of a dish I often like to start with the etymology. According the The New Jewish Holiday Cookbook by Gloria Kaufer Greene, the word cholent may have come into usage in medieval Europe:

“The medieval word cholent (with ‘ch’ pronounced as in ‘chair’) may have come from the French chaud-lent, meaning ‘warm slowly,’ or, less likely, from the Yiddish shul ende which describes when the cholent is eaten — at ‘synagogue end.'”

Food historian Gil Marks refutes this notion of shul ende being the root of the word, because the word cholent was used in France before Yiddish developed as a language in the mid 1200’s. In his Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, he contends that the word most likely evolved from the French chaud (hot) or from the Spanish escallento (warm), since the dish probably made it’s way to France from Spain. Still others believe that the word cholent is derived from the Hebrew she’lan, meaning “that rested” and referring to the pot resting in the oven overnight.

While nobody knows the exact source of the word cholent, it is without a doubt one of the most beloved dishes in Jewish cuisine.

Osh Savo, a Bukharan Shabbat stew made from rice, dried fruit, and vegetables

A Cholent By Any Other Name

Shabbat stews are cooked all over the world in different ways and under many different names. Here are a few of the many varieties of cholent:

Schalet – The Yiddish word for cholent, referred to in the German poem at the beginning of this blog. Schalet refers to an Eastern European-style cholent with meat, beans, barley, and sometimes kishke. Spicing is minimal; often only salt and pepper are used.

Hamin/Hamim/Chamim – From the Hebrew word “hot.” The Sephardic version of cholent is known as hamin. Popular throughout Israel, hamin is often made with chicken rather than meat and usually contains eggs. It is also spiced more exotically than Eastern European cholent.

Dafina & Skhina – In Spain, the Maghreb, and Morocco, cholent is referred to as dafina or skhina. It is generally cooked with chickpeas, meat, potatoes and eggs along with spices native to the Maghreb.

Osh Savo - A sweet and sour Shabbat rice stew served by Bukharan Jews.

Tabeet & Pacha – Iraqi Jews have two popular Shabbat dishes. Tabeet is made with a whole chicken stuffed with rice, herbs, and seasonings. Pacha is tripe stuffed with lamb, seasonings, and rose petals. Both are slowly cooked overnight for Shabbat, which makes them regional ethnic variations on the cholent theme.

Batia Restaurant in Tel Aviv

With Miri, the manager of Batia restaurant in Tel Aviv.

 

On my trip to Israel this summer, our friend Hagai brought me to a restaurant called Batia in Tel Aviv. It’s a traditional Ashkenazi restaurant, well known for their cholent. While there I met the manager, Miri. She gave me a tour of their kitchen and I got to snap a shot of their massive cholent pot, which is the size of about twelve normal cholent pots. Check it out:

Huge cholent pot at Batia Restaurant – Tel Aviv, Israel.

Miri told me that even with all of this cholent, they never fail to run out towards the end of the day. I had a chance to try it, and I understand why it’s so popular. It is absolutely delicious. Their cholent is made in the Israeli style with eggs, similar to mine but with less spices. They also add a kishke to their cholent and sliced meat if you ask for it.

Batia’s famous cholent, complete with kishke.

Cholent: A Family Affair

I recently chatted with Tamar Genger from the website Joy of Kosher, who posted an article about cholent earlier this week. In her article, she talks about the warm memories and feelings that a pot of cholent can conjure. “People have an emotional response to the word ‘cholent’ — it may be a memory of a meal at a grandparents house, kiddush after shul or that unmistakable smell that warms the entire home on a cold winter morning.”

I  totally relate to this emotional response, even though I didn’t grow up eating cholent. For the past eight years, cholent has made a regular appearance on our Saturday table. During the winter, it doesn’t feel like Shabbat unless a pot of cholent is slowly cooking in the oven, filling the house with its tantalizing, savory aroma. Cholent and challah are the official flavors of Shabbat in our home.

Cholent recipes vary greatly from region to region, and even from family to family. No two cholent recipes are exactly alike. It’s one of those dishes that evolves over generations, with spices and ingredients being added or changed to suit family tastes. Some cholent recipes have a hint of sweetness in them from the addition of honey or ketchup. Our family prefers a savory cholent, the recipe for which appears below. Later this year I’ll share my friend Sharone’s cholent, which has an added sweetness that many enjoy. Ashkenazi cholent recipes sometimes include kishke, or stuffed derma, which is a particularly unique Jewish delicacy. My recipe does not include a kishke, because I like to keep things simple– although you could certainly buy a kishke and add it to the pot. Couldn’t hurt!

Our family’s cholent recipe is a reflection of the heritage of my fiance’s parents; his mother was Sephardic, his father Ashkenazi, so I call this our Ashkephardic Cholent. The dish uses the basic ingredients of an Ashkenazi cholent– meat, beans, potatoes, and barley– but adds Sephardic and Moroccan spices for flavor. We also add whole eggs to the pot, another Sephardic custom. The eggs slowly cook in the broth, soaking up the flavor of the cholent and turning a lovely brown color. I sometimes use chickpeas, as is the custom in Moroccan dafina. Other times, I use a combination of kidney, pinto, and lima beans, which are more often used in Ashkenazi cholent. It just depends on what we have in the pantry on Friday morning. I use red potatoes because they have a lower starch content, so they won’t dissolve during the long slow cooking process. When we want a lighter cholent, I leave out the barley and let the potatoes take starchy center stage. Cholent is flexible that way. The result of combining all of these different flavors is an irresistible savory cholent that is always a hit on Shabbat.

Remember, this dish cooks overnight, which requires some forethought. The traditional way is to start the cooking on Friday before sundown so that the pot is in the oven before Shabbat begins. You don’t have to wait for Shabbat to make cholent, but you will need time to pre-soak the beans, so do plan ahead. Enjoy!

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Ashkephardic Cholent

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dried beans (lima, pinto, kidney, chickpeas, or a mixture)
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 1/2 lbs beef stew meat cut into chunks
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 marrow bones
  • 6 eggs (optional)
  • 2 1/2 lbs large red potatoes, peeled and halved
  • 2-4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 2 garlic cloves (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 cup pearl barley (optional)

You will also need

  • A large heavy pot - a 7 or 8 qt. heavy Dutch or French Oven works best
Total Time: 8 - 12 Hours
Servings: 8 servings
Kosher Key: Meat
  • In the morning on the first day of cooking, cover beans with 3 inches of cold water. Let the beans soak all day until you are ready to cook the cholent. Drain and rinse.
  • Heat the olive oil over medium in your large pot. Rinse the meat, then add it to the pot. Brown the meat on all sides. Remove meat from pot, leave the fat in. Saute the onions in the fat until brown and caramelized. Add meat back into the pot and stir. Add the soaked beans and stir again.
  • Place the marrow bones evenly spaced the meat, marrow side up. Rinse the eggs clean, then nestle them within the meat, evenly spaced.
  • Put a layer of potatoes on top of the meat.
  • Cover all ingredients with water and bring to a slow boil. Skim the foam that rises to the top.
  • Add seasonings to the pot and stir the water gently (do not agitate the layers of potato, meat, and beans-- just stir enough to disperse the spices in the liquid). If adding barley, sprinkle it evenly across the top of the broth; it will trickle down and settle amid the other ingredients. Let the mixture simmer slowly. While it's cooking, preheat the oven to 200 degrees F.
  • After 15 minutes, taste the broth and add additional kosher salt and pepper, if desired. Add kosher salt carefully, there's nothing worse than oversalted cholent!
  • Cover the pot tightly and place it in the warm oven.
  • Close the oven door and let the cholent cook overnight for 12 to 15 hours. The cholent is done when the potatoes have turned dark brown and the liquid has reduce by about half. Check the cholent periodically to make sure it's not becoming too dry; don't let the liquid reduce by more than half. If it seems too dry, add hot water to the pot (see note). If towards the end of cooking your cholent seems too soupy, remove the lid for the last hour or so to let the excess liquid evaporate.
  • Serve each portion of cholent with meat, potatoes, and an egg if desired.
  • Note: Adding hot liquid to the pot may be considered "cooking" under certain circumstances (cooking and working are forbidden on Shabbat), so if you're a strictly observant Jew it's best to check with your Rabbi or another halachic authority about the proper method of adding liquid to your cholent pot.

Comments (59)Post a Comment

  1. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Hahaha, you knew I would comment!
    Great posting! My mother and I (and most Orthodox Jews that I know) use a crock pot for chulent, but one of these days I am going to try it “the old fashioned way.”
    Funny tidbit about chulent. I had a gastic bypass 7 months ago. About 3 or 4 months post op I was having a lot of trouble getting my protein requirement in and my nutritionist suggested that I cook beans and beef in the crock pot because the long slow cooking process could make it all easier to digest. Well, what do you know, chulent has become my post gastric bypass Shobbos meal of choice! It’s literally one of the only dishes that go down well for me.

    1. Funny how links take you to an unintended but desirable place! :)

      My mother was the shiksa but did not convert. I consider myself spiritual but very proud of my Jewish genes. I was feeling a little nostalgic for my grandmother’s cooking and searched for cholesterol on this site.

      Unbelievable coincidences!!

      I am 8 weeks post bypass after a horror year where my stomach broke down. I too am having problems getting enough protein and now intend to introduce my gentile husband to the delights of my Jewish heritage.

      Thank you all! :)

    2. If I am using a slow cooker – can I put the inside of it on the gas hob? If I cook it to the simmering stage in a pan – how do I transfer it correctly – does it not have to stay in the right order to cook? Please help – making for this Shabbos!

      Jo, UK

    3. I do not recommend putting any part of the slow cooker over the gas, unless your slow cooker is specifically built for that. Do the saute in a pan, then transfer the ingredients to the slow cooker. They don’t have to be in the same order.

    4. I want to make this for Shabbat what day do I start on and are the eggs raw and in the shell when I put them in?

  2. Shoshanna, I have used the crock pot for this before and it worked out fine, but there’s something I love about cooking it in the oven. I don’t know, it feels more “old fashioned” or something. :) But you could easily make this in the slow cooker too, as long as you partially pre-cook the ingredients on the stovetop through the step of simmering for 15 minutes) before placing them in the crock pot. Happy to hear that cholent is getting you the protein you need!

  3. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    oh!!! yummm and with the weather that we have around here Dafina is what I’m craving now, I cook for me the vegan version and for my kids the normal one, I’m going to try your recipe, I can’t wait, thank you! <3

  4. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    This looks absolutely wonderful! I am definitely going to try this. Can you use a crock pot instead of an oven? Our oven is on the fritz and we only have a toaster oven which I know wouldn’t work.

  5. Hello, italian jew married to an ashkenaz…..
    I never cooked cholent, but ate it and loved it: do you put fresh eggs in it or do you boil them before?
    Thank you
    Anna

  6. Randi, yes! Feel free to add a kishke/derma. I haven’t posted a recipe on my site yet, but most delis offer kishke, and you can also get it at many kosher markets.

    Kathryn, yes, you can make it in the slow cooker. Just make sure you partially cook the ingredients on the stovetop as directed, then transfer everything to your slow cooker. Use the “low” setting for 10 hrs. and keep an eye on the liquid level to make sure it doesn’t get dry (see my note in the recipe about adding liquid).

    Anna, no need to cook the eggs, they cook in the pot during the first 15 minute simmer. If you pre-boil them, they won’t soak up as many of those delicious spices and turn that lovely brown color.

    1. I’ve been making Cholent in a stoneware crockpot for 25+ years without ever having to pre-cook anything on the stove. Meat goes on the bottom, use plenty of water and cook at least 14 hours on low.

  7. love your blog. why would you precook if doing in a crock pot? Could you after brewing the meat and sauteing the onions put it in the crock pot on high to bring to a simmer and then put on low?thanks!

  8. Thanks, Jillaurie. I suppose you could do the simmer in the crock pot– I’ve never tried it that way, but as long as it’s simmering for 15 minutes before the slow cooking, it should be fine. :)

  9. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    I’ve been making Cholent for the last 40 years – 30 years in a crock pot and do not precook any of the ingredients. I add the kishke on top with a whole onion (uncut). Just followed my Mom’s instructions and it’s just like her Cholent with kidney beans, barley, potatoes, a chunk of beef and marrow bones. I live in Israel so I do add a few eggs. Salt, pepper and several slices of garlic. I start it on high until it simmers for a while and then before I go to sleep, I cover it with a towel and put it on low. It’s yummy everytime.

    1. I have your recipe, with a couple exceptions, in a crockpot right now. I used white beans rather than kidney beans and left out the marrow bones. I also aded a squirt of ketchup. I normally add kishka, but my daughter doesn’t like it. I made this batch at her request, so no kishka. Like you, I do not precook anything.

  10. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    My most recent favorite Jewish food is the cabbage soup I made for dinner tonight. Lots of other veggies and shredded cabbage with tomato and veg broth base. I added some sweet (stevia) and sour salts to make it taste like my mom’s used to. Yum

  11. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    from one shiksa to another, great job with the website! looking forward to trying out your recipes for my hunny

  12. Hi There,
    With the rainy weather we are having I am going to try and make my first cholent for Shabbat dinner this week. What side dishes would you suggest serving with it? Looking forward to your suggestions!
    Thanks!

    1. Susan- thanks!

      Britney- wow, your first cholent– congrats!! Not sure where you live, but where I am (Southern California) it is totally cholent weather– cold, drizzly. I would suggest serving a green veggie; something light, since the cholent is somewhat heavy. Roasted asparagus might be a good choice, or my green bean pepper salad. I’ve pasted links to both recipes below. Let me know how it goes! :)

      link to theshiksa.com

      link to theshiksa.com

  13. I made your cholent recipe this morning. Can’t wait until it’s done. Should be about 10PM tonight. I don’t remember anybody making it in Brooklyn where I grew up. My grandmother cooked a lot of great Jewish food. On Friday night, the apartment building she lived in smelled like chiken soup. She useed to make stuffed helzel which was better than the kishka from the deli. Wish I had some kiska to throw in the cholent. “Give me kiska or give me death” :-)

    1. Oh Rich, I’m jealous! Bet it smells amazing. Wish we had cholent cooking in the oven here, it’s a cloudy cholent kind of day in my neck of the woods. Enjoy!

  14. Hi! Stumbled on your site while looking for Passover recipes, and I love it! I just wanted to add that my father used to make cholent (until he had to lower his cholesterol!) with marrow bones, flanken, potatoes, red beans, barley, salt, pepper, and whole garlic cloves. He used to cook it on a blech, then check it every couple of hours overnight to see if it needed some more boiling water (eventually he bought a slow cooker). But I have very fond memories of waking up on a Saturday morning to the aroma of cholent—and only being able to eat about half a bowl because it’s so filling.

  15. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Great article, and awesome illustration. I’ll be making my first cholent shortly… although with more marrow bones.

    Thanks!

  16. Thanks so much Rich! You picture really helped with ideas on texture and amount of broth. Yours looks incredible.

  17. Heyy

    This recipe sounds fab! I am going to make it in a 6.5litre slow cooker is that large enough? Also how many people does it feed? X

  18. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    I never even heard of cholent growing up in Great Neck (go figure). Ours was a household of chicken soup, matzoh balls, maybe kreplach at Grandma’s. But here’s my brisket recipe:

    1. If you have a Romertopf or other clay Dutch oven, soak it in cold water for 15 minutes. If not, use any oven-proof casserole.

    2. Layer the following ingredients in the dish. I like to put onions on the bottom because they caramelize nicely, but that’s an option:

    * A 2 or 3 pound piece of brisket of beef, fat side up
    * A medium onion, sliced or diced if you like
    * An equivalent amount of chopped celery
    * Bay leaves to taste
    * Fresh parsley
    * Carrots (I often use those pre-cleaned little baby carrots, but lately I’ve found gigantic, sweet Belgian carrots at the farmer’s market)
    * Daikon radish (optional)
    * A splash of sherry or vermouth (optional)
    * Water (optional)
    * Kosher salt to taste (I salt the meat and the fat, which I score with a sharp knife)

    3. Put the Romertopf in the oven at 350 degrees. (If the clay oven has been soaked, then it releases a blast of steam when it reaches 212).

    4. After the first half hour, turn the heat down to 200 or 225 and let it cook for several hours.

    5. Turn off the heat and let it remain in the oven until morning.

    You can tweak the ingredients to make this more like a traditional cholent or more like the traditional brisket, with more onions, skip the carrots and daikon. My Bialystoker grandmother used a pressure cooker and cooked it until it was really dead, adding raw garlic and black pepper. It was usually a tough and stringy enough to accompany those leaden kreplach. My Hungarian grandmother was big on celery and onions and, FWIW, a much better cook. But I digress: The cholent method is an excellent way to produce a very tender, flavorful brisket. Serve with kasha (varnishkas if you’re partial, like I am, to the Hungarian side) or latkes.

  19. Will you please explain the over situation. How warm should it be to cook the meal? Once the pot is taken out of the oven it cannot be put back, correct? What if my over doesn’t have a “warm” button and the lowest temp is 150? Help!

    1. Fanny, if you read the instructions carefully you’ll see that the oven should be 200 degrees, and that you should check the cholent periodically to make sure it doesn’t become too dry. I’m not sure what you mean by “cannot be put back”… if it’s not fully cooked, you can certainly put it back in the oven to cook longer. Click “print recipe,” all the instructions are there and it’s easier to read without the step-by-step photos. Enjoy!

    2. Tori, thanks for your quick reply. You’re right, sorry I didn’t read it correctly. I recently converted to Judaism and am 24 years old. I have never made cholent before but i was in india for four months doing volunteer work in the slums and spent shabbos at chabad many times and it was incredible, they always had cholent on saturdays and maybe it was their kind hearts, but that cholent was such a refuge for me when being away from home. this weekend is my hebrew birthday so I want to make challah and cholent for the first time! I’m so excited I found your blog because the steps are so easy to follow! Will let you know how it turn out! :)

  20. sorry in advance for the stupid question… do you cook the eggs first and put them into the pot (without shell) – or do you put them raw (with shell) in the pot and cook them together with the rest at the same time – I have difficulties to believe that I can keep the eggs for so long in the shell in the oven – don’t they explode… and don’t they dry out totally???

  21. Hi. I’ve been making crock pot chulent for over 10 years now. I put all the ingredients in together then leave it on high for 12 hours. I also add ketchup, a spoon of coffee (yes coffee!) and a spoon of honey. Its heaven. It gets licked clean every week!!! And its a 6 litre.

  22. Thank you for the recipe I’m going to make it today… what a shabbos treat… I do have a question though. Is it possible to make without the bones? If so should I substitute some beef broth for water? I just don’t have the time to get bones and i already have the meat…
    Thanks again!

    1. No problem. You can substitute some beef broth for the water for a stronger flavor, just be careful with the salt– the broth will have some salt on its own, so you may want to reduce the added salt a bit. Enjoy!

    1. I don’t recommend it, I think it would throw off the taste with all the spices. But since I’ve never tried it I can’t say for certain.

  23. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    hi! i love your blog :)thank you for these wonderful recipes! made your unstuffed cabbage last night for dinner in the sukka! delish! i want to make the hamin tonight- what would be intructions for crockpot? thanks!!

    1. Hi Aliza, I always cook this in the oven so I’m not sure how to modify, however a lot of readers have asked the same question. I plan to test it in the slow cooker this autumn. I will update the blog with slow cooker instructions once they are ready!

  24. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    I made this cholent today and it was great, except for the eggs which tasted really bitter. I ended up throwing the eggs away. How are they supposed to come out?

    Thanks

  25. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Thank you for sharing this recipe. I made it yesterday in the crock pot (12 hours on high as suggested by another reader) and it came out wonderful. I had forgotten the onions and it was still delicious.

  26. Thank you for the recipe!
    I will try it next Shabbes but since it’s winter now sundown is very early on friday (here in Switzerland) and I will have to let it cook for about 20 hours until lunch time. Shall I reduce the heat of the oven or add more liquid?
    Best
    Perl

    1. Do you have time to quick soak them? Cover them with about 2 inches of water, bring to a boil over high heat. Cook for 1 minute, then remove pot from heat. Let the beans soak covered for one hour, then drain, then add to the pot. If you don’t have time for this, I don’t recommend adding the beans cooked to the pot, they will turn out quite mushy. Better to add cooked beans in at the end of cooking… but the flavor won’t be the same.

    2. My father makes superb cholent. He NEVER soaks the beans; he just tosses them in the pot with everything else. The final result may be “gassier” than if the beans had been soaked, but the cholent will turn out fine. In fact, in a dish that cooks as long as cholent, the ohly thing soaking accomplishes is reducing the “gassiness.” 18+ hours on a low heat is definitely going to cook the beans. You might want to add a litle extra liquid, though, since you are nto starting with hydrated beans.

      I soak my beans before adding them, but I ate my father’s cholent for years before I even knew that you are supposed tosoak the beans.

  27. Hi Tori, I am a Christian black woman with no other Jewish ties but I discovered your site while hunting for recipes. I am so making this dish. I am one who loves different cultures and good food. I saw your hummus and falafel recipes and am making them right now. I have bookmarked and shared your site. Thank you for sharing your passion of culture and food.

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