By Judith Yamada, The Kitchen Maven
Although Chanukah is a relatively minor holiday in the Jewish calendar, it’s very popular with Jewish families. It’s a time for decorating homes and preparing special foods, like potato latkes and sufganiyot (filled donuts). This year it starts on December 12th.
Jews light a menorah/hanukkiah annually, on each night of Chanukah, to commemorate the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem in 164 B.C.E . The menorah is a candelabrum with nine branches for its flames. One candle is lit on the first night and an additional flame is lit, each night thereafter, for eight nights.
On the eighth night of Chanukah, all the branches glow brilliantly in celebration. Families sit back to watch the luminous display, exchange nightly gifts, play games with dreidels (decorated tops), and enjoy holiday treats.
The holiday celebrates the victory of Judah Maccabee and his followers over the Syrian King, Antiochus. The king had cast the Jews out of their sacred Temple and forbidden them to practice their religious rituals.
Along with the Maccabees’ victory came the miracle of the oil, and the rededication of the Temple. “It’s a tale devoid of armies, but full of divine intervention when just enough oil for one day lasted for eight.”
The key to cooking at Chanukah is the oil. The miracle of the oil is a story Jewish children learn at an early age, regarding the wonder of Chanukah. If you’ve ever enjoyed a potato pancake or a warm jelly filled donut, you’ll appreciate traditional Chanukah cuisine. It’s definitely Jewish soul food.
SHELLEY’S POTATO LATKES
10 medium russet potatoes
1 small onion
8 large eggs
1 cup unsalted matzo meal
1 Tablespoon salt
Pepper to taste
Vegetable oil for frying
Peel the potatoes and shred by hand on the large holes of a hand grater. Soak the shredded potatoes in cold water. Into a medium-large bowl, finely grate the onion on the fine side of the grater. Rinse and drain the shredded potatoes; add them to the bowl with the onion. With a fork, mix in the egg, matzo meal, salt and pepper. Heat ¼ inch oil in a large heavy skillet on medium to medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, spoon in pancake sized portions of the mixture into the pan. Fry until golden brown, turning once. Serve with sour cream and applesauce on the side. Yields about 30 large pancakes.
(Israeli Jelly Donuts)
2 envelopes active dry yeast
¼ cup warm water (105-110 degrees F)
¾ cup milk
½ cup butter
½ cup sugar
1 Tablespoon salt
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (yellow only)
7 to 8 cups all purpose flour
Vegetable oil for deep-frying
Raspberry, apricot or cherry jelly
Dissolve the yeast in the warm water; set aside. Heat the milk with the butter over medium-low heat until the milk is scalded (small bubbles form around edge of pan). Add the sugar and salt and stir to dissolve; cool to lukewarm. Beat the eggs lightly; add the lukewarm milk mixture with the lemon and the yeast mixture. Gradually add 7 cups of flour, beating with a wooden spoon or mixer dough hook until smooth and elastic. Add more flour, if necessary, to make a soft dough that is easy to handle.
Grease a bowl about twice as large as the dough, and turn the dough in the bowl to lightly grease it all over. Cover loosely with wax paper or a clean linen dishtowel. Put in a warm place until doubled in bulk. When ready, shape dough into balls the size of a walnut. Cover and let rise for 30 minutes.
Heat the oil to 375 degrees F. in an electric deep-fryer or in a heavy pan on top of the stove. Drop the balls of dough in carefully and fry until browned, turning once. Lift from the oil with tongs or a slotted spoon and place on paper towels to drain. Make a slit in the side of each donut and fill with jelly immediately. Sprinkle with powdered sugar just before serving.