Eat, drink and be the perfect New Year’s party host


This year, New Year’s Eve lands — plop! — right on the last night of Chanukah. So at sundown, when Jewish families around the nation sing “I Have a Little Dreidel,” it will be just a warm-up for “Auld Lang Syne” later that night. 

With families raising menorah candles while a shiny silver ball slowly descends in Times Square, it means there’s twice as much reason to end the year with a bang — and a party! 

The key to making your bash a success — no matter how many holidays you’re celebrating — is careful planning, according to Colin Cowie, an event planner and author of “Entertaining With Colin Cowie.” 

 “The simple solution to New Year’s Eve jitters is punctilious planning, having an impeccable checklist with every detail included, and having the right attitude,” he said. “Successful entertaining is about creating an atmosphere of gaiety. That means great music, spectacular cocktails and incredible food.” 

Set the pace of the party with music.

“It’s the tool that shapes the energy flow,” Cowie said. “At first it should be mellow and welcoming — instrumental, jazzy, bluesy.  As energy rises, complement the mood by something livelier. When people are eating, they’re more relaxed. Play mellifluous instrumentals so people can talk. After dessert is served, as it gets closer to midnight, energy rises again, and so should the music.”

Since you’re planning for a long night, serve dishes that are cold or room temperature, such as Brandied Cheese Roll, encrusted with nuts. Place it on top of grapevine leaves for a beautiful presentation for this treat, which should be made a few days in advance to let the flavors blend. For dessert, try the Apple Cobbler With Almond-Streusel Topping.

For drinks, give a special shout out to the colors blue, white and silver. Serve drinks such as Silver Champagne Cocktails, Blue Curacao Midnight Kiss, Blueberry Margaritas, Blue Curacao Martinis or Blackberry-Basil Mojitos — all poured and shimmering on a tray.  

Whatever you decide to serve, relax and set an even, moderate pace.

“Don’t rush through the evening like you’re galloping on a stallion, or worse, crawl around at a snail’s pace,” Cowie said. “Even if you’re running late and people have to pour their own drinks, they’ll be basking in wonderful music, and seductive smells flowing out of the kitchen, and won’t mind a bit.”

So, Happy Chanukah — and Happy New Year!

BLUE CURACAO MIDNIGHT KISS

From Beverly Levitt

– 1 ounce vodka 
– 1/4 ounce Blue Curacao
– 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
– 4 ounces chilled Champagne, or more, if needed

Mix vodka, Blue Curacao and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker with crushed ice. Strain into a Champagne flute. Top with enough Champagne to fill the flute. 

Makes 1 serving.

BRANDIED CHEESE ROLL

Adapted from “The New Elegant but Easy Cookbook” by Marian Burros and Lois Levine (Simon & Schuster)  

– 3/4 pound blue cheese, at room temperature
– 8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
– 1 teaspoon minced shallots
– 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
– Salt and white pepper to taste
– 3 tablespoons brandy
– 2 cups finely chopped toasted walnuts, pecans or pistachio nuts
– 1 jar brine-packed grape leaves, soaked in water to soften
– 1/2 cup dried cranberries, blueberries or currants

Using an electric mixer, beat blue cheese and cream cheese together until creamy. Fold in shallots, thyme, salt and pepper and brandy; mix to combine thoroughly. 

Divide mixture in half. Place each half on a sheet of plastic wrap; form into 2 roughly shaped logs, 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter. Wrap tightly; refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour. Drain brine from grape leaves; soak in fresh water until softened, about an hour.

When cheese log is firm enough, roll each wrapped log back and forth on counter to shape into a more uniform log. Unwrap and roll in the nuts. Once again, wrap tightly, refrigerate for several hours. 

To serve, bring to room temperature. Spread grape leaves on a platter.  Place cheese logs on top. Garnish with additional nuts and dried fruits.  Serve with crackers. 

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

APPLE COBBLER WITH ALMOND-STREUSEL TOPPING

From “Adventures in Jewish Cooking” by Jeffrey Nathan

– Almond-Streusel Topping (see recipe below)
– 1/4 cup fresh lemon juicee 
– 5 pounds Golden Delicious apples
– 2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
– 1/3 cup granulated sugar
– 3 tablespoons cornstarch
– 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
– 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
– 1 1/2 cups golden raisins, soaked in warm water for 20 minutes and drained
– 2 tablespoons brandy
– 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Prepare Almond-Streusel Topping, set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 F.  

Position rack in center of oven. Lightly grease with margarine a 15-by-10-inch baking dish that is at least 2 inches deep.  

Stir 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice in a large bowl of cold water. Peel and core apples; cut them into 1/2 inch-thick wedges, dropping the cut wedges into the lemon water.  

In a large bowl, mix the brown and granulated sugars, cornstarch, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Drain apples well; add to sugar mixture. Add raisins and sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Stir in the brandy and vanilla. Transfer to baking dish.  

Using the large holes on a box grater, grate the Almond-Streusel Topping all over the filling, letting it fall randomly. Do not pack or the topping will not be delicately crunchy when baked.  Bake in preheated oven until topping is crisp and golden brown and the apples are tender, about 1 hour. Cool slightly, then serve warm.

Makes 12 servings.

ALMOND-STREUSEL TOPPING

– 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
– 1 1/4 cups margarine, cut into thin slices, at room temperature
– 1 cup vegetable shortening
– 4 ounces almond paste, crumbled
– 3 cups all-purpose flour
– 2 teaspoons pure almond extract

Combine sugar, margarine, vegetable shortening and almond paste in a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Blend until smooth. Add flour and almond extract; mix just until combined.  Form into a thick disk; wrap in plastic. Refrigerate until well chilled, about 4 hours or overnight.

Noodles flex their versatility in sweet, savory kugels


During a recent cooking class I was teaching, several students showed an interest in Jewish foods that could be served during Chanukah, aside from the traditional potato latkes.   

Sufganiyot, or jelly doughnuts, are another popular choice at this time of year, but I thought of something else. As far back as I can remember, old-fashioned kugel — one of the basic foods in Jewish cuisine — has been served at our family meals to celebrate the holiday.

In Germany, the name kugel has become synonymous with pudding, and the two words in Europe often are interchangeable. Most kugel recipes are based on noodles, rice or potatoes, and kugel can be served as a side dish, main course or dessert, hot or cold.

While the crisp Classic Potato Kugel is a hearty accompaniment for brisket, pot roast or roasted chicken, my personal favorite is a Noodle Fruit Kugel, accented with apples and raisins. 

Most kugel recipes can be prepared in advance and refrigerated until ready to bake and serve.

And don’t worry, just because kugel is on the menu this Chanukah doesn’t mean your family has to pass on those old-fashioned potato latkes. It’s easy to convert the potato kugel batter into latkes simply by spooning some of the mixture into a nonstick skillet and frying them until golden brown.    

CLASSIC POTATO KUGEL

This recipe also can be used to make Classic Latkes (see below).

1/4 cup olive oil
2 eggs
2 cups peeled, grated potatoes, well-drained and tightly packed (preferably russet)
1 small onion, grated
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Brush bottom and sides of an 8-by-8-inch baking dish with 2 tablespoons olive oil and set aside. 

Beat eggs in a large bowl until fluffy.  Add grated potatoes, onion, remaining olive oil, flour, baking powder and salt and pepper. Spoon the potato mixture into prepared baking dish.

Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake 30 to 45 minutes longer, until golden brown and crisp.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

CLASSIC LATKES

Prepare potato mixture.

Heat 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet.  Drop a tablespoon of the potato mixture into the skillet, then flatten with the back of a spoon for thin latkes. Brown on both sides, 3 to 5 minutes, depending on how hot the burner under the frying pan is. Drain on paper towels.  

Makes about 24 latkes.

NOODLE FRUIT KUGEL

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup Concord grape wine or apple juice
1 (12-ounce) package flat egg noodles
1/4 pound unsalted butter
2 apples, peeled, cored and diced
4 eggs, well beaten
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon cinnamon-sugar or more to taste (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 F. 

Brush a 9-by-12-inch baking dish with olive oil and set aside.

In a small bowl, soak raisins in wine for 1 hour or overnight, drain before using.  

Boil the noodles until tender, drain into a large bowl. Combine noodles, butter, apples and  raisins and mix well. Add eggs and mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared baking dish and sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar, if desired. 

Bake in preheated oven for 35 to 45 minutes, until top is brown and crisp.  Cut into squares. Serve hot or cold. 

Makes about 10 to 12 servings.     

MIDDLE EASTERN RICE KUGEL

2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter
Grated peel of 1 orange
Grated peel of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs
3 cups cooked rice
1/2 cups raisins

Preheat the oven to 350 F. 

Brush bottom and sides of an 8-by-8-inch square baking dish with olive oil and set aside. 

Beat together sugar, butter, orange and lemon peel, cinnamon and vanilla in a large bowl. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until well-blended. Stir in rice and raisins and mix thoroughly. 

Pour into prepared baking dish and bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour. 

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

KUGEL SOUFFLE

2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1/4 pound flat egg noodles
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup warm milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Pinch of nutmeg
4 eggs, separated
1/4 cup minced parsley

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  

Brush an 8- or 9-inch round mold with melted butter. Set aside.

Cook noodles in salted boiling water until tender. Drain and rinse in cold water. Set aside.

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in saucepan. Add flour and whisk until blended. Add warm milk all at once, stirring vigorously with wire whisk. Season to taste, with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Transfer mixture to large bowl and cool slightly. 

Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form and set aside. Beat yolks in separate bowl until foamy and add to cooled butter mixture. Stir in noodles. Carefully fold in stiffly beaten egg whites, then parsley. Spoon the mixture into prepared mold and place mold in a shallow baking pan partially filled with hot water.

Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes or until set. Unmold kugel onto a large platter. 

Makes about 8 servings.


Judy Zeidler is a food consultant, cooking teacher and author of 10 cookbooks, including “Italy Cooks” (Mostarda Press, 2011). Her website is judyzeidler.com.

Sausage hash brown latkes


Sausage Hash Brown Latkes

My favorite breakfast is a combination of eggs served with sausage and hash browns. When combined together and fried to crispy perfection it makes the perfect breakfast latke!

Ingredients:

  • 4 sausages, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 20 oz. shredded hash browns (3 1/2 cups)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 T flour
  • 2 scallions chopped up
  • Salt
  • Pepper

 

Saute onions until tender. Add diced sausage and cook until lightly browned. Combine with hash bronws, eggs, flour, scallions and season with salt and pepper. Fry up in batches and serve with spicy mayo. (mayo with sriracha combined)

This recipe originally appeared on Kosher in the Kitch!

Waffle latkes with bite sized crispy chicken


Waffle Latkes with Bite Sized Crispy Chicken

These are a personal favorite of mine. I love the sweet salty combo of latkes with maple syrup.

Ingredients:

                    Baked Chicken Bites:

  • 1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 cup of mayo
  • 1 tsp. dijon mustard
  • 2 cups corn flake crumbs
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper

       

       Waffle Latkes:

  • 20 oz. shredded potatoes (3 1/2 cups)
  • 2 eggs
  • Salt
  • Black Pepper
  • 2 T flour

     

       Optional:

  • maple syrup
  • western sauce (recipe below)

 

Directions:

Cut chicken into small pieces. Season corn flake crumbs with salt and pepper. Combine mustard and mayo. Coat chicken with mayo mixture then corn flake crumbs. Place on lightly greased baking sheet, spray with cooking oil and cook in oven on 350′ for 25-30 minutes until chicken is cooked.

While the chicken cooks combine waffle latkes and cook up in batches using a waffle maker (be sure to use a non dairy waffle maker!) Plate cooked waffle latkes with baked chicken bites and hold together with a tooth pick. Drizzle maple syrup on top or serve with western sauce (combine equal parts ketchup, mayo and bbq sauce) or spicy mayo (mayo with sriracha)

This recipe first appeared on Kosher in the Kitch!

Nigella Lawson keeps it simple


Nigella Lawson has achieved that ever-elusive balance other so-called domestic goddesses can only strive for. Gwyneth Paltrow’s eco-conscious Every Mom is often received with tepid skepticism at best, cynical hostility at worst. Ina Garten’s lifestyle empire is based on her version of bourgeois home comfort but doesn’t rest on presenting herself as an enviable vision of personal glamour. Martha Stewart is, well … Martha Stewart. And there are too many millennial-targeted personalities on Instagram and YouTube to go into here. 

In a world where women in the media are subject to increasingly punishing scrutiny at all levels, Lawson — or “Nigella,” to her fans — has mostly managed to sidestep these pitfalls and emerge victorious when faced with public challenges, such as her recent divorce or relentless gossip in the British press about her fluctuating weight. (A bizarre obsession, given that she always looks terrific and at ease in her own skin.) 

Nigella Lawson

With her soft features and dark hair that could qualify her as a Rachel Weisz stand-in, her practical yet stylish wardrobe and her posh London accent that reflects her Jewish family’s prominent standing in Britain, Lawson is a rare example of the accessible and the aspirational comfortably melding. 

Her latest book, “Simply Nigella: Feel Good Food” ($35, Flatiron Books), contains unfussy recipes, entertaining tips and an overarching take-it-easy-on-yourself philosophy that reveals where Lawson, 55, is at this point in her life. 

“The food in this book is what I’ve been cooking for myself and, although the impetus was certainly to seek out food that made me feel physically strong, I have always believed that food you cook for yourself is essentially good for you,” she states in the introduction. “This is not just because real ingredients are better for you than fake foods, but because the act of cooking for yourself is in itself a supremely positive act, an act of kindness.”  

The 125 recipes are organized into chapters with titles that reflect her philosophy of what she calls “mindful cooking” as well as more involved entertaining (“Quick and Calm” and “Dine”), along with headings that hew closer to standard cookbook formats (“Sides” and “Sweets”). 

“Simply Nigella” carries on Lawson’s comforting image and brand that’s found adoring audiences on both sides of the Pond. (“Simply Nigella” is also a BBC program that might find its way to U.S. airwaves.) Even if you don’t cook any of the recipes, you’ll enjoy the Oxford alumna and former journalist’s prose for its personal, well-informed, engaging and — perhaps best of all — completely unpretentious manner. 

The two following healthful recipes, from “Simply Nigella,” are ideal to serve alongside latkes during a spirited Chanukah meal. Her Chicken Traybake With Bitter Orange and Fennel reminds me of a Yotam Ottolenghi “Jerusalem” recipe I’ve found to be wildly successful — and easy to prepare — for group dinners. And the cauliflower is cooked with some oil, adding an appropriate thematic tie-in. 

During the holidays, hopefully, you can relax while taking pride and pleasure in your efforts to be a great, mindful host. But don’t obsess over perfection. This is a particularly difficult balance, but if anyone can help show the way, it’s Nigella. 

WARM SPICED CAULIFLOWER AND CHICKPEA SALAD WITH POMEGRANATE SEEDS

  • 1 small head cauliflower
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 1/2 cups chickpeas, home-cooked or drained from a can or jar
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons harissa, to taste
  • 4 small ripe vine tomatoes (approximately 6 ounces total)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt flakes or kosher salt, or to taste
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons pomegranate seeds
  • 2 1/2 cups Italian parsley leaves

 

Preheat the oven to 425 F. 

Trim the cauliflower and divide into small florets. Pour the oil into a large bowl, add the cinnamon and cumin seeds, and stir or whisk to help the spices disperse. Add the prepared cauliflower and toss to coat. Pour the contents of the bowl into a small oven pan (a 12-by-8-inch disposable foil baking pan works well) and place in the oven for 15 minutes. Don’t wash out the bowl just yet.

Add the chickpeas to this bowl, then add the harissa, tasting it first to see if you want both tablespoonsful, then toss to coat. Quarter the tomatoes, add them to the bowl, and shake or stir to mix. When the cauliflower has had its 15 minutes in the oven, remove the pan, quickly pour the chickpeas and tomatoes over the cauliflower, and toss to combine before returning to the oven for another 15 minutes, until the cauliflower is tender.

Remove from the oven. Sprinkle the salt over the vegetables, then toss to combine with half of the pomegranate seeds before dividing between 2 bowls. Divide the parsley leaves — without chopping them — between the 2 bowls and toss to mix. Scatter with the remaining pomegranate seeds.

If you have leftovers, let them cool, then cover and refrigerate within 2 hours of making. Will keep in refrigerator for up to 2 days. Serve leftovers cold.

Serves 2 heartily, or 1 with leftovers.

CHICKEN TRAYBAKE WITH BITTER ORANGE AND FENNEL

  • 2 large bulbs fennel (approximately 2 pounds total, though less would also be fine)
  • 7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon or so for drizzling on the chicken when cooking
  • Zest and juice of 2 Seville oranges (scant 1/2 cup juice), or zest and juice of 1 eating orange and juice of lemon
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt flakes or kosher salt
  • 4 teaspoons fennel seeds
  • 4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 12 chicken thighs, skin on and bone in, preferably organic

 

Remove the fronds from the fennel and put them in a resealable bag in the refrigerator for serving. I discard (that’s to say, eat) the tubey bits of the fennel, but if you have a roasting pan big enough, use everything. Cut the bulbs of fennel into quarters and then cut each quarter, lengthwise, into 3 pieces. Leave on the cutting board while you make the marinade.

Place a large resealable bag inside a wide-necked measuring cup or a bowl, add the 7 tablespoons oil, the orange zest and juice (and lemon juice, if using), and spoon in the salt, fennel seeds and mustard. Stir briefly to mix.

Remove the bag from the cup and, holding it up, add a quarter of the chicken pieces, followed by a quarter of the fennel pieces, and so on until everything’s been used up.

Seal the bag tightly at the top, lay the bag in something like a lasagna dish, and squelch it about so that you make the small amount of marinade cover as much of the chicken as possible. It will look as if it isn’t enough, but it is, I promise. Leave in the refrigerator overnight or up to 1 day.

When you’re ready to cook, remove the marinating chicken and fennel from the refrigerator and pour the contents of the bag — marinade and all — into a large, shallow roasting pan (I use a half-sheet pan with a lip of 1/2 inch). Using tongs, or whatever implement(s) you prefer, arrange the chicken pieces so that they are sitting, skin-side up, on top of the fennel. Leave it for 30 minutes or so, to come up to room temperature while you heat the oven to 400 F.

Drizzle the remaining 1 tablespoon oil onto the chicken, and cook in the oven for 1 hour, by which time the fennel will be soft and the chicken cooked through and bronzed on top.

Place the chicken and fennel on a warmed serving plate and put the pan over medium heat (use a saucepan if your pan isn’t stove-friendly) and boil the juices, stirring as you watch it turn syrupy; this should take about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes in the pan, or about 5 minutes in a saucepan.

Pour the reduced sauce over the chicken and fennel, and then tear over the reserved fennel fronds.

Cool leftovers, then cover and refrigerate within 2 hours of making. Will keep in refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Note: The chicken can be marinated 1 day ahead. Store in refrigerator until needed.

Serves 6. 

From savory to sweet, latkes for all


Chanukah, which begins the night of Dec. 6, has always been a joyous holiday celebrated more in the home than in the synagogue. Every year, we invite a minimum of 25 family members and friends to our celebration, and it is always a festive occasion. 

When our guests arrive, we begin with platters of Crispy Potato Latkes that are served with sour cream, applesauce and sugar. Latkes fried in olive oil act as a reminder of the ancient miracle of the oil that burned for eight days in the Temple.

With each course during dinner, we serve a different kind of latke. The Romanian Noodle Latkes, similar to a pasta dish, seem to be everyone’s top choice and are always a special request. We’ll see how they stand up to Salmon Latkes, a new addition to our celebration this year. 

After serving dinner, we take a break before dessert to exchange presents, which usually takes at least two hours. In the past, everyone had lots of gifts to open, but this year, the family has rebelled and decided to have a Chanukah grab bag, for which everyone will bring one present. (Of course, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren will receive more!)

For dessert, serve my Sweet Potato Latkes, a family favorite enriched with dates, raisins and nuts. Or make Apple Latkes dusted with cinnamon and sugar — a suitably sweet way to end the evening.

CRISPY POTATO LATKES

  • 4 potatoes
  • 1 onion, grated
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 4 eggs
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Ground pepper to taste

 

Peel potatoes or scrub and use unpeeled. Grate potatoes, using food processor or fine shredder.

In large bowl, combine potatoes, onion, lemon juice, eggs and 1 tablespoon oil. Blend well. Stir in flour. Add salt and pepper. Mix well.

In a heavy skillet or an electric frying pan, heat remaining 4 tablespoons oil. Drop potato mixture by tablespoons into hot oil, flattening with back of spoon. Brown well, on both sides, turning once. Cook 3 to 5 minutes on each side. Serve latkes crisp and hot with applesauce, sugar, sour cream or preserves if desired.

Makes about 3 dozen latkes.

ROMANIAN NOODLE LATKES

  • 1 (8-ounce) package fine egg noodles
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted margarine, melted
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

 

Cook noodles according to package directions; drain well. Transfer to a large bowl, add margarine and blend well.

In a small skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat and sauté onions until tender, about 5 minutes. Add onion to noodles. Blend in eggs. Add salt and pepper.

In a large, heavy skillet, heat remaining 4 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Drop noodle mixture by tablespoons into hot oil, flattening each spoonful with back of spoon to form thin latkes. Fry on both sides until golden brown and crisp, about 5 minutes per side. (Do not turn latkes until first side is golden and firmly set.)

Makes about 2 dozen latkes. 

SALMON LATKES

  • 1 (15-ounce) can pink salmon
  • 2/3 cup chopped onion 
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs or matzah meal
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

 

In a mixing bowl, place salmon and its liquid in a bowl. Add onion, eggs and bread crumbs. Add salt and pepper. Mix well. Set aside for 15 minutes.

With wet hands, shape mixture into latkes. In large, heavy skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add latkes to skillet and fry until golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels. Serve hot or cold.

Makes about 12 latkes. 

CARROT AND ZUCCHINI LATKES

  • 2 cups grated carrots
  • 2 cups grated zucchini
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 or 3 eggs
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

 

In a large bowl, combine carrots, zucchini, onion and eggs; blend thoroughly. (This can be done in food processor with metal blade, using a quick on-and-off motion, just enough to blend, then transfer mixture to a large bowl.) 

Add flour, baking powder, salt and pepper; mix well.

In a large skillet, heat oil. Drop carrot-zucchini mixture by large spoonsful into hot oil. Fry until golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels.

Makes about 3 dozen latkes.

SWEET POTATO LATKES

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and finely grated
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons ground almonds
  • 2 tablespoons golden raisins
  • 2 tablespoons chopped dates
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/8 to 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Powdered sugar

 

In a large bowl, combine sweet potatoes, eggs, granulated sugar and enough ground almonds to make a thick batter. Mix well. Fold in raisins, dates and pecans. Add salt.

In a large skillet, heat oil. Spoon heaping tablespoonsful of potato mixture into oil, flattening with back of a wet spoon. Brown on both sides, about 3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels. Just before serving, sprinkle with powdered sugar. 

Makes about 12 latkes. 

APPLE LATKES

  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1/2 cup milk or liquid nondairy creamer
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted margarine, melted
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 to 4 apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
  • Powdered sugar 
  • Ground cinnamon

 

In a large bowl, beat egg yolks until light. Blend in milk. Stir in flour, granulated sugar, margarine and lemon juice. Add salt and beat until smooth. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form, then fold into egg yolk mixture.

In a large skillet, heat oil to about 375 F. Dip each apple slice into batter. Lift out with fork or tongs, drop into hot oil and fry until brown on both sides, about 2 to 3 minutes. Before serving, sprinkle with powdered sugar and cinnamon.

Makes 2 to 3 dozen latkes. 

Judy Zeidler is a food consultant, cooking teacher and author of “Italy Cooks” (Mostarda Press, 2011). Her website is judyzeidler.com.

Zengoula with lemon syrup: A new-old Chanukah treat


The tradition of eating latkes during Chanukah is only half the story. Don’t get me wrong — I love crisp potato pancakes, but there’s so much more fried deliciousness to enjoy over eight days. I’ll explain.

Latkes are traditional European fare, and a German potato pancake is simply a latke by another name. The Jews who migrated north and west into Eastern and Central Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries (after potatoes had traveled there from the New World) thought potato pancakes would make a dandy fried food to commemorate the miraculous bit of oil. 

On the other hand, if you were a Jew who lived in Babylon (Iraq) or had taken a different and much earlier migratory route into North Africa, for instance, there’d have been no potatoes and no latkes. Instead you’d have been frying up crisp, local golden pastries for your Chanukah parties.

Which brings me to zengoula, the syrup-soaked funnel cakes that have been popular for centuries throughout the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia (where they are called jalebi). Zengoula were adopted long ago by local Jews as their Chanukah food. (This raises the very interesting topic of recipe patrimony — how regional foods become associated with and claimed by different local cultures as their own.)

Zengoula are irresistible; each crunchy bite shatters to a burst of sweet syrup. If you’ve ever tackled home-fried sufganiyot (doughnuts), zengoula are so much easier and quicker to make. It takes only a few minutes and a fork to whisk up the simple cornstarch, flour and yeast batter (the cornstarch keeps the pastries crisp). Then, all you need is a resealable plastic bag and a pot of hot oil to begin the fun.

This recipe comes from my Iraqi safta — grandmother — Rachel, who could pipe perfect coils into the bubbling oil the way they do at Arab bakeries in Jaffa and Nazareth or at Tunisian bakeries in Paris. That takes practice. Free-form Rorschach-like shapes — seahorses, dolphins, geese — that magically pop up in the hot oil are just as delicious. My grandmother used to dip the funnel cakes in traditional sugar syrup. I think they’re infinitely more wonderful infused with a tart lemon syrup and adorned with long curls of fragrant citrus zest — making venerable zengoula a 21st-century Chanukah treat.

ZENGOULA WITH LEMON SYRUP (IRAQI FUNNEL CAKES) Pareve

FOR THE DOUGH:

  • 1 1/8 teaspoons (1/2 package) active dry yeast
  • 1 1/4 cups warm water (100 to 110 F)
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup cornstarch
  • Scant 1/2 teaspoon salt 

 

FOR THE LEMON SYRUP:

  • 2 to 3 lemons
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 quarts mild-flavored oil with a medium-high smoke point such as grapeseed, sunflower or avocado), for deep-frying 

 

TO MAKE THE DOUGH:

In a small bowl, stir together the yeast and 1/4 cup of the warm water; let stand in a warm place until the mixture bubbles, about 10 minutes. 

In a medium bowl, using a fork, stir together flour, cornstarch and salt. Stir in 1/2 cup of the warm water and the yeast mixture. Then slowly stir in enough of the remaining 1/2 cup warm water until the dough is lump-free and the consistency of thick pancake batter. You should have 1 1/2 to 2 cups batter. 

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until doubled in bulk, at least 6 hours, or up to 24 hours. The dough will be loose and spongy and have a yeasty aroma.

TO MAKE THE LEMON SYRUP:

Using a five-hole zester, remove the zest from 1 lemon in long strands. Halve and squeeze enough lemons to yield 1/3 cup juice. In a small pot, stir together the lemon juice and zest, water and sugar over medium heat. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring frequently, until the sugar is completely dissolved and clear, about 1 minute. Pour into a pie pan and let cool. (The syrup can be made 1 day ahead, covered and refrigerated.) 

TO MAKE THE FRITTERS:

Transfer the dough into a 1-gallon resealable plastic bag or large pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch plain pastry tip and set the bag in a bowl for support. Let the dough stand for about 15 minutes before frying. Line a large plate with paper towels. Place the prepared plate, tongs, a slotted spoon, the syrup, and a tray to hold the finished fritters near the stove. 

Pour oil to a depth of 3 1/2 inches into a 4- or 5-quart pot, wok or electric fryer and heat to 375 F. If using a plastic bag for the dough, snip 1/4 inch off of one of the bottom corners, cutting on the diagonal, to create a piping tip. Roll the top of the pastry bag closed to move the batter toward the opening. Don’t worry about air pockets.

Pipe a bit of the batter into the hot oil. The oil should bubble around the batter immediately. If it does not, continue heating the oil and try again. Pipe the dough into the hot oil, creating 3- to 4-inch coils or squiggles, letting gravity help push the batter out. Be careful not to crowd the pan. Fry the dough, turning once with tongs at the halfway point, until bubbled, golden and crisp, 4 to 5 minutes total. Use slotted spoon to remove the fritters from the oil, drain them briefly on the paper towel-lined plate, and then drop them into the syrup for a moment or two, turning them to coat evenly. Lift them out of the syrup and transfer them to the tray in a single layer to cool. Repeat with remaining batter, skimming any loose bits of dough from the hot oil between batches to prevent burning. Scrape any batter that escaped into the bowl back into the pastry bag to make more pastries.

The cooled pastries can be piled on a platter. Pour any remaining syrup over the top. The fritters taste best served the same day they are made, although they will hold their crispness overnight. Store, loosely covered, at room temperature.

Makes 8 servings.

NOTE: A couple of 2-inch chunks of raw carrot added to the frying oil act as magnets, attracting all those little brown bits that might otherwise burn and impart an acrid taste to the oil. It’s an old-fashioned trick that works! 

The accidental brussels sprouts latkes


A couple of years ago, just before Chanukah, I heard Akasha Richmond on KCRW describing how her kitchen manager had over-ordered Brussels sprouts (to the tune of 50 pounds). In desperation she decided to add the extra Brussels sprouts to her latkes.  That’s the way great inventions happen.  

Akasha didn’t provide any further details, so I don’t know how similar our two versions are. But mine have been a huge hit at my Chanukah parties and will definitely be making an appearance this year.

I usually make sweet potato latkes to go along with the Brussels sprouts ones, and if you’re offering two or three types of latkes, the quantities in this recipe will serve at least 16. But if you’re serving these on their own (perfectly satisfactory!) I’d plan on this recipe serving eight. Make sure you have a food processor on hand if at all possible. It will make your preparations that much easier.

POTATO AND BRUSSELS SPROUTS LATKES

  • 2 pounds russet potatoes
  • 1 small onion 
  • 5 large eggs 
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts
  • 1 cup canola oil

 

Peel the potatoes and shred them in a food processor (or grate them by hand).  Put the grated potatoes in a colander perched over a bowl, and let them drain for 15 minutes. Discard the liquid from the bowl, but keep the starch that remains at the bottom of the bowl.

Peel the onion, and grate it in the food processor (or by  hand).

In a large bowl, mix the starch from the potatoes with the grated onion, eggs, flour, salt and pepper.

Trim the ends off the Brussels sprouts, and run them through the fine slicing disc of your food processor (or slice them vertically into thin slices). Add the sliced Brussels sprouts to the bowl with the egg-onion mixture and grated potatoes.  

Heat the canola oil in a large sauté pan, then adjust heat to medium. Drop heaping teaspoonsful of the batter into the pan, and fry until golden brown, turning them over so both sides are done. If they’re getting dark too quickly and seem to be burning, lower the heat.  

Remove latkes from pan, drain on paper towels, and sprinkle a bit of extra salt on top, if desired.

Makes 8 servings.

Hava Volterra is chef and owner of Hava’s Kitchen in Santa Monica

My Spanish-Venezuelan Chanukah


I never had a latke until I moved to the United States 24 years ago. Don’t get me wrong; I’m 100 percent Jewish — three-quarters Sephardic and one-quarter Ashkenazi, to be precise. However, I grew up with some different traditions.

My paternal grandparents are from Melilla, Spain, a Spanish city located on the north coast of Africa, bordered by Morocco. My maternal grandparents come from Tangier and Moldova. Similar conditions of political unrest, anti-Semitism and instability caused both sets of grandparents to end up in Caracas, Venezuela. Needless to say, I grew up with a colorful and culinarily diverse Shabbat spread every Friday night. Our table was an edible manifestation of every country my family has lived in.

No table was complete without ensalada cocha, a briny salad of roasted red and green peppers cut into rustic slivers (always with scissors, never a knife), marinated in a simple vinaigrette that allowed it to become more tender and vibrant as more time passed. Another staple I have vivid memories of is charmila (or charmoula), a bright, vinegary type of relish also made of sweet, roasted red peppers — this was the kind of thing we had always had on hand to slather on steaks, tortilla espanola or empanadas — basically, our version of ketchup.  

At every Jewish holiday table, there is a recipe that has traveled through different countries and generations. For the holiday of Chanukah, I can trace my grandmother’s buñuelos back to her native Spain. Her recipe is the bridge to my heritage and a link to the roots I’m so proud to have. The recipe is perfect as is — lightly sweet, fluffy and with a kiss of orange zest. When my grandparents immigrated to Caracas, they also adopted new dishes, and one of them, dulce de leche, accompanies these buñuelos beautifully.

BUÑUELOS DE NARANJA

  • 2 teaspoons dry yeast
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 2 large eggs 
  • 4 tablespoons cooking oil plus additional for frying
  • Powdered sugar
  • Honey

 

In a large bowl, combine yeast, 1 teaspoon sugar and orange juice (heated to 110 F); allow the mixture to froth. Add flour, remaining sugar, orange zest, eggs and 4 tablespoons oil to the yeast mixture. If mixing by hand, knead until you have a soft dough. You may need to add more orange juice to make the dough soft. If you are using a stand mixer, knead with dough hook for approximately 12 minutes, or until the dough is uniform, elastic and soft.

Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, let stand at room temperature, and allow the dough to rise until doubled in size (about 1 1/2 hours). Then punch the dough down to get rid of the excess air bubbles, and roll out to 1/2-inch thickness. Using a cookie cutter or the rim of a glass, cut out rounds approximately 3 inches in diameter. Then, using your finger, make a hole in each round and pull the dough outward to form rings. Let the dough rings stand on an oiled baking sheet for 30 minutes.

In a large pot or deep fryer, heat oil to 350 F, then fry dough rings until they are golden brown. Carefully remove rings from hot oil; drain on paper towels. When ready to serve, dust with powdered sugar or drizzle with honey.

DULCE DE LECHE

Take one unopened 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk and place in a large pot or Dutch oven. Cover with water until completely submerged; simmer for 2 or 3 hours, depending upon how dark you like your dulce de leche. 

Check water level frequently, making sure the can is always completely covered with water. After cooking, take the can out of the pot carefully and allow to cool completely before opening it. Don’t try to open the can while it’s hot — the pressure inside could cause it to burst out.  

Deborah Benaim owns dB catering in Los Angeles.

For Chanukah, breakfast latkes two ways


I first tasted latkes for brunch at a trendy eatery on the Lower East  Side about six years ago. Since then, I’ve seen them across the country on brunch menus everywhere from diners to Michelin Star restaurants.

Latkes — or potato pancakes, as they’re known to non-Jews — are comfort food that provide the perfect base to any number of savory toppings, but especially a runny egg or salty, fatty smoked salmon. After all, a latke is very similar to hash browns, a quintessential breakfast food.

It’s traditional to eat fried foods like latkes during Hanukkah, celebrating the miracle of the oil lasting for eight nights. And who doesn’t love a holiday that encourages enjoyment of a little extra oil?

These breakfast latkes take the best of a classic and add a fun, American twist that screams brunch party.

Here I offer two options: one dairy and one meat. If you keep kosher but want to serve both at a single meal, you could leave out the corned beef from the second latke and just top classic latkes with some fried or poached eggs. If you want to be really indulgent, you could whip up some buttery Hollandaise sauce — you’ll have your guests raving for months.

EVERYTHING BAGEL LATKES WITH DILL CREAM CHEESE AND SMOKED SALMON

Yield: 12-15 latkes

These latkes are both creamy and savory. Making latkes bite-size makes the experience a little more fun – guests can easily eat the latkes with their fingers, and also feel like they can indulge a little more since the portions are small.

For the latkes:

  • 4 Idaho (Russet) potatoes
  • 1 small-medium onion
  • 3 large garlic cloves
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 ounces goat cheese, left at room temperature
  • vegetable oil for frying

 

For the cream cheese:

  • 6 ounces cream cheese, left at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

 

For the everything bagel topping:

  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
  • 1 tablespoon dried minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon dried onion
  • 2 teaspoons thick sea salt
  • Thinly sliced smoked salmon

 

Before getting started on the latkes, I advise making the everything bagel topping and the dill cream cheese.

Add softened cream cheese to a bowl and combine with fresh dill, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Place back in the fridge until ready to serve.

To make the everything bagel topping, mix together the sesame seeds, poppy seeds, dried garlic, dried onion and thick sea salt. Set aside.

Peel and cut potatoes and onions in half. Peel garlic cloves. Place potatoes, onion and garlic through food processor for a coarse grate (you can also grate coarsely by hand).

Place potato mixture to a large bowl. Add eggs, flour, salt, goat cheese and 2 tablespoons everything bagel topping mix.

Heat vegetable oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Form bite-sized mounds of latkes, taking care not to squeeze too much liquid out of the latkes. Fry until golden brown on each side, then place on a wire rack on top of a baking sheet to cool. Immediately sprinkle with a pinch of salt.

When ready to serve, spread thin layer of dill cream cheese on top of each latke. Add smoked salmon on each latke and top with sprinkle of everything bagel topping. Serve while still warm.

CORNED BEEF HASH LATKES WITH FRIED EGGS

Yield: 12-15 latkes

These corned beef hash-inspired latkes work best with thinly shredded corned beef. If you can purchase a hunk of corned beef, as opposed to sliced, that would be ideal. If not, make sure to heat up the corned beef before shredding it or dicing into very, very tiny cubes.

But don’t skimp on the salt in these latkes just because you think the meat will be salty – the potatoes still need salt to make these latkes most flavorful.

  • 4 Idaho (Russet) potatoes
  • 1 small-medium onion
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • Shredded corned beef
  • Additional salt
  • Additional eggs
  • Fresh parsley
  • Vegetable oil for frying

 

Peel and cut potatoes and onions in half. Peel garlic cloves. Place potatoes, onion and garlic through food processor for a coarse grate (you can also grate coarsely by hand).

Place potato mixture to a large bowl. Add eggs, flour, salt and shredded (or diced) corned beef.

Heat vegetable oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Form large, fist-sized mounds of latkes, taking care not to squeeze too much liquid out of the latkes. Fry until golden brown on each side, then place on a wire rack on top of a baking sheet to cool. Immediately sprinkle with a pinch of salt.

Fry or poach eggs to your liking. When ready to serve, place latkes on platter and top with fried or poached eggs. Top with chopped fresh parsley.

Kislev: Rainbows, oil and salt


During the month of Kislev, which begins later this week, we celebrate Chanukah. The most obvious food of this holiday and month is oil, the miracle ingredient.  During Chanukah, some women recite the story of Judith, a heroine who used salt as a weapon. “Legend has it that Judith fed the enemy general Holofernes salty foods to make him thirsty for wine. As he lay in a drunken stupor she was able to slay him, thus saving Jerusalem from siege.”

A symbol of Kislev is keshet (rainbow). During Kislev, when the flood waters receded, a rainbow appeared in the sky and God told Noah, “I will keep my covenant with you and your descendants…and never again will a flood destroy all life. . . . I have put my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between Myself and the world. “

The recipe I created for Kislev uses lots of salt and olive oil but it is not another recipe for latkes! Since Kislev is celebrated during a dark, cold time of year, I offer a dish whose brightness will counter the damp weather and provide lots of nourishing ingredients. It is a salty and oily salad made with an array of bright foods, symbolic of the rainbow, with pieces cut into arches.

Indeed, eating a rainbow of foods is not only good for one’s health, but critical for sustainable agriculture. As part of our covenant with God, we are required to protect Creation. We can be inspired byNoah, the first seed saver and protector of biodiversity. Our agricultural practices–what and how we grow–are critical to environmental sustainability. Indeed, monocropping, lack of biodiversity in seeds, and use of chemicals and fertilizers endanger our food supplies and environment. Such practices remove critical nutrients from soil, leave crops vulnerable to disease (think of the Irish potato famine) and undermines the genetic diversity of our food supply.

Kislev: Oil and Salt Rainbow Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 head of lettuce, washed and torn
  • 10 pitted olives, chopped into pieces
  • 1 tbsp capers
  • 1 tbsp roasted and salted sunflower seeds
  • 1 persimmon, chopped into quarters
  • 1/2 orange, peeled and chopped into quarters
  • 3 pieces of stale bread
  • 5-6 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • optional: sea salt
  • optional: juice of remaining half of orange

Preparation

1. Wash the lettuce and tear into pieces.

2. Soak in olive oil (about 3-4 tbsp total) and then cut into pieces. Place on tray in toaster oven at 375 degrees. Bake until crispy, approximately 10 minutes. Remove from oven to cool.

3. In a serving bowl, add 2 tbsp olive oil to the bottom. (I just learned this tip to help better coat the lettuce in oil.) Add lettuce and mix well with oil. Add olives, capers, permission, orange, sunflower seeds and bread pieces to lettuce. Mix well.

4. Add freshly ground pepper. Taste to decide if salt should be added. Option to add the juice of the remaining half orange. Mix well and serve.

B’tayavon!

PS: If you are interested in my other Chanukah recipe and articles, please click here and here.

Recipe: Poutine Latkes


This recipe originally appeared on Kosher in the Kitch.

Ingredients:

Potato Latkes

  • 1 lb shredded potatoes (4 cups) -> Frozen works great! Just defrost the bag first
  • 1 small onion, shredded
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 t salt
  • 1/4 t black pepper
  • 2 T flour
  • Optional: 3 T chopped green onions

 

Gravy

  • 2 T earth balance
  • 2 T flour
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1/4 t black pepper
  • 1 T soy sauce (add more if you want a darker gravy)

 

additional

  •  1 large ball of Fresh Mozzarella, cut into small pieces (or shredded mozzarella)

 

Directions:

Combine latke ingredients. Fry up in batches using a tablespoon measuring spoon until both sides are golden brown. Once latkes are cooked set aside. Melt earth balance in a pot over low heat. Add flour and whisk until combined. Slowly add broth. Whisk until combined. Continue whisking over medium heat until mixture thickens. Season with pepper. Add soy sauce and combine. Place two latkes on a small plate or bowl then top with mozzarella . Layer hot gravy over cheese and serve immediately.

Chocolate freedoms of Chanukah and Thanksgiving


The freedom food of chocolate should star in desserts for Chanukah and Thanksgiving. Puritans seeking asylum in North America and Jews hiding from the Inquisition in New Spain (Mexico) had their first encounters with chocolate in the 17th century. Chocolate paves the religious freedom trail.

A group of Pilgrims traveled to what became Plymouth via Amsterdam and stayed near that city’s biggest chocolate houses. They called chocolate “the devil’s food.” Later, a chocolate cake became popular in Amsterdam; local bakers named it “devil’s food” — what some say became our Devil’s Food Cake. For these Puritan freedom seekers, there was no domestic chocolate imbibing and certainly no ecclesiastical use for chocolate. That devil’s chocolate indulged the senses and distracted from worship.

Themselves suspected of being devils, Crypto-Jews living in New Spain hid Jewish observance from the inquisitors. For them, drinking the popular, local chocolate drink melted them into the local customs of their Catholic neighbors. Chocolate seeped deep into Jewish customs and celebratory meals for holidays and lifecycle events. Indeed, these Mexican Crypto-Jews used chocolate for Shabbat Kiddush because wine was scarce in New Spain. For hidden Jews attempting to follow Jewish dietary laws, the pareve nature of the xocolata, prepared without milk, lent itself to the separation of milk and meat. The chocolate could be enjoyed either with a milk meal or a meat meal. I imagine it being sipped on each night of Chanukah, maybe alongside churros (doughnuts) for dipping. 

Jews used chocolate in meals of consolation. Holding vigil for the dying Doña Blanca Méndez de Rivera, her daughters and granddaughters spent a day in reflection and prayer, fortified by a special meal of chocolate and pickled fish. The proceedings of the trial of Gabriel de Granada report his testimony about the period of mourning for his father, Manuel de Granada:

“Gabriel sent to her the hard boiled eggs and chocolate which was eaten by the said widow and her children. During the six days preceding the said seventh … sent chocolate one day of the said six.”

At funerals, the Váez family ate chocolate, raisins, almonds, salad and homemade bread.

Chocolate appeared on Yom Kippur menus in the 1640s. This may have been the most frequently observed of the holy days, so much so that many secret Jews even risked writing down the exact date. The theme of atonement resonated for them, as they felt themselves constantly sinning through their public profession of Catholicism. Gaspar Váez broke his Yom Kippur fast with chocolate, eggs, salad, pies, fish and olives. Isabel de Rivera testified that on Yom Kippur, Doña Juana, who was married to the wealthy Simón Váez Sevilla, sent “thick chocolate and sweet things made in her house.” Gabriel de Granada and his family washed down their pre-fast meal with chocolate, having dined on fish, eggs and vegetables. Others reported that they preceded the Day of Atonement with fruit and chocolate and that they broke the fast with chocolate and similar treats. Beatriz Enríquez, at the age of 22, testified that when her husband left for long business trips, she took advantage of her sadness to hide her abstinence from chocolate and food on día grande (big day), or Yom Kippur:

“From the window she pretended to be crying over the absence of her husband and with this suffering she was able to hide from her negras [Negro servants] the fact that she ate nothing and did not drink chocolate that day.”

In order not to eat on Jewish fast days, Amaro Díaz Martaraña and her husband would stage a falling-out with each other in the morning. When chocolate was brought to them, they would pretend to be offended, spill it on the servants, then reconcile in the evening. To offer chocolate at times when it was proscribed and to receive a refusal in response was to communicate through a coded language. These Jews developed such subterfuges to avoid being outed for drinking chocolate on Catholic fast days (which Catholicism permits) or not drinking chocolate on Jewish fast days (not permitted by Judaism).

Other fasts were also framed with meals that included chocolate. Attempting a fast, 15-year-old Símón de León confessed to the Mexican Inquisition that he ran away from home because he had broken a fast that his father had ordered him to keep by eating chocolate. When he could not bear the hunger any longer, he asked his sister Antonia for some chocolate. Juan de León and his Mexican Converso friends preceded their fasts with chocolate and broke the fasts with chocolate.

Even once Jews were arrested by the Inquisition, chocolate continued to be part of their experience during the capture and in jail. Muleteers hired to transport suspected Crypto-Jews to trial drank chocolate and listed it as a reimbursable expense. The muleteers who captured Rodrigo Serrano in Veracruz purchased chocolate at each night’s campsite to be prepared for the next morning’s breakfast chocolate. Chocolate both jeopardized the lives of Jews in New Spain and percolated through their ritual observances. 

Lift a cup of chocolate to the complex diversities and freedoms of our Chanukah and Thanksgiving legacies and enjoy these cookies, which feature two New World foods: Chocolate from Central America and peanut butter from North America.

PEANUT BUTTER
CHANUKAH GELT COOKIES 

1 cup peanut butter (crunchy or smooth)

1 cup sugar

1 egg

Approximately 36 dark or milk chocolate
Chanukah gelt coins

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Beat the peanut butter, sugar and egg together. Shape mixture into rounds the size of the gelt, flattening the tops. Bake on buttered cookie sheets for about 12 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool slightly, then gently press one piece of gelt onto each cookie. Cool completely.

Makes about 36 cookies. 

 

Jewish Journal blogger Deborah R. Prinz’s books, “On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao,” (Jewish Lights) and “On the Chocolate Trail,” contain many delicious recipes; Prinz also blogs at The Huffington Post and The Jew and the Carrot. Lesson plans for teaching about Chanukah and chocolate and other bonus materials may be found at her website Jews-OnTheChocolateTrail.org

A Brentwood Country Club Chanukah [RECIPES]


Chef Brett Swartzman is a chef with passion. The Chicago native started working in his parents’ Jewish bakery when he was 10 years old, making bagels, muffins, cookies, challah and sandwiches.

Chanukah was always a big celebration at his grandparents’ home. Coming from a big family, there was always a kids’ table, and because there were so many cousins, Swartzman sat there until he was 17 years old. But while his cousins were busy playing dreidel, he was in the kitchen, helping his grandmother fry latkes.

This year will be his first preparing Chanukah dinner for the Brentwood Country Club.

His experience goes far beyond what he learned from his bubbe. Swartzman went from prep cook to line cook at a Marriott hotel, but decided he needed more training and enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. There he received an associate degree in culinary arts and an additional certification in baking and pastry arts. 

Returning home to Chicago, Swartzman landed a job as sous chef at the Deer Path Inn in Lake Forest, Ill. His first executive chef job was at Rolling Green Country Club in Arlington Heights, Ill., where he met his future wife, Sheila Wu, the pastry chef.

Upon moving to California, Swartzman continued his career at Big Canyon Country Club in Newport Beach. Then this young, ambitious and accomplished chef with more than 15 years of food preparation, catering, banquets, à la carte and fine dining experience was offered the position of executive chef at the Brentwood Country Club.

More than 350 guests are expected on Dec. 9. for Swartzman’s first Chanukah event at the Brentwood. A special holiday menu will be served buffet style, with a special buffet table for the kids. 

When asked what Chanukah celebrations were like when he was growing up in Chicago, Swartzman explained that the holiday always centered around food, especially the traditional dishes. His grandmother prepared foods fried in olive oil: potato latkes served with applesauce; zucchini latkes; kreplach; sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) and beef brisket with tzimmes. But the family’s favorite was kishke, a dish he is still trying to perfect.

Everyone at the Brentwood loves his chopped liver. The secret ingredient is lots of chicken shmaltz, and he suggests using a meat grinder rather than a food processor for a coarser texture.

His family’s influence continues to live on in other ways. Swartzman’s mom is a pastry chef at Lake Forest Place, a retirement community in Lake Forest, Ill., and he still uses her recipes for mandelbread, coconut macaroons and rugelach.

 

CHEF BRETT SWARTZMAN’S 

2012 CHANUKAH MENU

 

BRETT’S CHOPPED LIVER

1 pound fresh chicken livers

1 medium onion, sliced

1/2 cup shmaltz

5 hard-boiled eggs

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Rye bread 

1/4 cup chopped

        white onions, for garnish

1 or 2 hard-boiled

       eggs, sieved, for garnish

Sauté livers in 1/4 cup shmaltz until cooked through. Caramelize the sliced onions in the remaining 1/4 cup shmaltz until golden brown. While livers and caramelized onions are still warm, place in food processer or meat grinder, add hard-boiled eggs, salt and peppers; pulse until thoroughly combined. Do not overmix. Chill. Serve with rye bread, chopped onions and sieved eggs.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

 

BEEF BRISKET

1 whole beef brisket 

      (deckle on)

Salt and black pepper

1/4 cup olive oil

2 cups red wine

3 carrots, diced

3 onions, diced

8 ribs celery, diced

5 garlic cloves, chopped

1 (15-ounce) can diced 

      tomatoes, undrained

4 sprigs fresh thyme

4 sprigs fresh rosemary

Chicken stock

 

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Season the whole untrimmed brisket liberally with salt and pepper. Then, over high heat, sear the brisket in olive oil in a roasting pan until deep golden brown. Deglaze pan with red wine, then add carrots, onions, celery, garlic, undrained tomatoes, thyme, rosemary and enough chicken stock to come halfway up the sides of the brisket. 

Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake in preheated oven for 3 hours. Turn brisket over, cover and continue cooking for another 1 to 2 hours, depending on the size of the brisket. 

Check for doneness with a cooking fork — it should slide easily in and out of the brisket. If it feels like the brisket is holding onto the fork, it’s not done yet. Once done, remove brisket from braising liquid and let rest for 45 minutes. 

Meanwhile, strain the braising liquid and skim off the excess fat. This will be the gravy. After the brisket has rested, trim it of excess fat, then slice the brisket against the grain. 

Makes 8 to 10 servings. 

 

BLACK LENTILS AND RICE WITH SHMALTZ AND ONIONS

1 cup cooked black beluga lentils

1 or 2 bay leaves

2 cups cooked white rice

1 medium onion, diced

1/4 cup shmaltz

Fresh chopped thyme

Salt and white pepper, to taste

Place the lentils in a small saucepan with 3 cups water. Add bay leaves. Simmer slowly until the lentils are just done, al dente, about 20 minutes. 

Caramelize the onion in the shmaltz, cooking until deep golden-brown. Add chopped thyme; cooked lentils and cooked rice. Season with salt and pepper.

Can be made ahead of time and reheated in an ovenproof dish.

Makes 6 servings.

 

POTATO LATKES WITH GRANNY SMITH APPLESAUCE


2 potatoes, peeled, shredded, 

       rinsed and drained

1/2 medium onion, shredded

2 eggs

2 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon salt

Pepper, to taste

Shmaltz or oil for frying

Serve with Granny Smith Applesauce 

      (recipe follows)

Combine shredded potatoes, onions, eggs, flour, salt, pepper and flour; mix well. Heat shmaltz or oil in skillet. Drop potato mixture by large spoonsful into schmaltz; fry until golden brown on both sides; drain on paper towels. Can be made ahead of time and reheated in the oven on a cookie sheet. Serve with Granny Smith Applesauce.

Makes 18 to 20 latkes.

 

GRANNY SMITH APPLESAUCE

6 Granny Smith apples, peeled, 

      cored and diced

1 cup sugar

Juice and zest of 2 lemons

1 vanilla bean, split

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients in a wide-based pot. Simmer over low heat until apples are falling apart and liquid is reduced, about 1 hour. Remove vanilla bean, transfer apple mixture to food processor, and blend until smooth. Refrigerate.

Makes 2 to 3 cups.

 

SUFGANIYOT (JELLY DOUGHNUTS)

2 tablespoons active dry yeast

1/2 cup warm water (100 to 110 F)

Sugar

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 large eggs

2 tablespoons unsalted margarine, 

      room temperature

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

2 teaspoons salt

Vegetable oil

1 cup seedless raspberry jam

In a small bowl, combine yeast, warm water and 1 teaspoon sugar. Set aside until foamy, about 10 minutes.

Place flour in a large bowl. Make a well in the center; add eggs, yeast mixture, 1/4 cup sugar, margarine, nutmeg and salt. Using a wooden spoon, stir until a sticky dough forms. On a well-floured work surface, knead until dough is smooth, soft and bounces back when poked with a finger, about 8 minutes (add more flour if necessary). Place in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set in a warm place to rise until doubled, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Using a 2 1/2-inch-round cutter or drinking glass, cut 20 rounds. Cover with plastic wrap; let rise 15 minutes.

In deep saucepan over medium heat, heat 3 cups oil until a deep-frying thermometer registers 370 F. Using a slotted spoon, carefully slip 4 dough rounds into oil. Fry until golden, about 40 seconds. Turn doughnuts over; fry until golden on other side, another 40 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, transfer rounds to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet. Roll in sugar while warm. Repeat with remaining dough rounds, frying in oil and rolling in sugar. 

Fit a pastry bag with a No. 4 tip and fill bag with jam. When doughnuts are cool enough to handle, make a small hole in the side of each doughnut with a wooden skewer or toothpick, fit the pastry tip into hole, and pipe about 2 teaspoons jam into doughnut. Repeat with remaining doughnuts and jam. 

Makes 14 to 16 doughnuts.

Frying high: Keeping known, lesser-known culinary traditions


Latkes and sufganiyot, the jelly-filled doughnuts especially popular in Israel, are well-known Chanukah fare made with oil to signify the holiday tale.

Lesser known is the tradition of cheese and the story of Judith.

Like the Chanukah story, which is part of the Apocrypha—books not incorporated in the Bible—the book of Judith tells of a beautiful widow whose town was under siege by the army of the Assyrians and decided to visit the commander in chief of the army to ask him not to overtake the town. As the story goes, she gives him wine, he gets fall-down drunk and falls into a stupor. Judith beheads the king and saves her people and the town.

Legend has it that Judith fed him cheese to make him thirsty, and since she lived in the same period as the Maccabees, Jews of various communities instituted the custom of eating cheese dishes in honor of her heroism.

On my cookbook shelf is a a classic written in the 1970s—“A Taste of Tradition” by Ruth Sirkis, the “Julia Child of Israel.” Sirkis has written numerous cookbooks and was the food editor for a major Israeli women’s magazine; she also had a popular radio show.

“A Taste of Tradition” covered all the Jewish holidays; below are some of her Chanukah recipes. Plus to celebrate Judith, some cheese recipes are included from various sources.


CHEESE LATKES
This recipe is from “Spice and Spirit, The Complete Kosher Jewish Cookbook of the Lubavitch Women.”

Ingredients:
3 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup drained cottage cheese
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup oil

Preparation:
1. Place eggs, milk, cottage cheese, flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and vanilla in a bowl and mix until smooth.
2. Heat oil in a frying pan (if using nonstick pan, use less oil.)  Drop batter by spoon into hot oil. Fry until brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels and continue until all batter is used. Keep warm until serving. Serve with sour cream or applesauce.


VANILLA RICOTTA FRITTERS
This recipe comes from a Chicago chef Gale Gand, who got it from her mother-in-law.

Ingredients:
Vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
1 1/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
Confectioners’ sugar

Preparation:
1. In a large saucepan, heat 2 inches of vegetable oil. Set a large wire rack over a baking sheet, top with paper towels and position near the saucepan.
2. In a large bowl, beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the ricotta and beat until smooth. Add flour and baking powder and beat until just blended.
3. Using a very small ice cream scoop or 2 teaspoons, slide 8 walnut-size rounds of batter into the hot oil. Fry over moderate heat until deep golden all over and cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the fritters to the rack to drain. Continue frying the remaining fritters in batches of 8. Arrange the fritters on a platter and dust well with confectioners’  sugar. Makes 8 servings.

Chanukah fare with international flair


Around this time of year, I think of my grandmother and the stories she told me about making beef brisket and potato latkes for her first Chanukah dinner in America. She loved to cook, and sharing her recipes from Russia brought her such delight.

Chanukah, often called the festival of lights, is a joyous holiday that is celebrated at home instead of taking place in the synagogue. Families light candles and enjoy the traditional foods that are fried in oil, recalling the miracle that occurred in ancient times, when a one-day supply of oil burned in the Temple for eight days.

For many years, we shared Gramma Eva’s brisket recipe with friends at our Chanukah meals, but as our food focus changed, so too did the menu. One year, we served meatloaf and cabbage borscht. After a trip to Brazil, we had a feijoada stew for our Chanukah family dinner, and last year, the main course was fried chicken.

This year, we are going back to our traditional Chanukah fare, but with a few additions. I am roasting Beef Brisket With Prunes in a Wine Sauce, almost like a tzimmes, and serving it with an Italian-inspired green tomato marmalade and crisp potato latkes.

I still remember using a hand-held grater to help my mother make the potato mixture for the latkes. Today, the food processor cuts down on the time it takes to prepare the old family recipe. To make the latke batter in minutes, use the food processor’s knife blade to chop the onions and the shredder blade to grate the potatoes, and then just add them to a bowl with the remaining ingredients.

We begin frying the latkes when family and friends arrive at our home; meanwhile, our grandchildren spin the dreidel, a game that dates back to ancient times. Before dinner, as the guests exchange greetings, we serve Fried Zucchini Sticks. Then we sit down to a salad of shredded lettuce tossed with sliced tomatoes, fresh fennel and topped with fried parsnip chips. The main course — brisket, green tomato marmalade and potato latkes — is served family style, and everyone helps themselves.

Carrying out the Chanukah theme for dessert, we serve homemade jam-filled doughnuts, which everyone loves. Served in many countries during the holiday, they take on different names. In Israel, they are known as sufganiyot; in Italy they are called bombolini, and in Poland they refer to them as ponchiks. No matter what they are called, they are delicious. Simply fry the doughnuts, roll in sugar and serve them with a bowl of melted chocolate for dipping.

The doughnuts can be made in advance, and stored in plastic bags in the refrigerator. Before serving, just reheat and roll in sugar. Make an extra batch for your guests to take home — they are delicious for breakfast the next day.

But the party is not over. After dessert, everyone returns to the living room, where the gifts wrapped in colorful Chanukah paper are waiting to be opened by the children.


GREEN TOMATO MARMALADE
From “Italy Cooks,” by Judy Zeidler.

If you saw the movie “Fried Green Tomatoes,” you may think the only way to cook green tomatoes is to fry them. The truth is they also make a wonderful marmalade that’s a perfect accompaniment to the brisket and potato latkes.

While living in Italy we were invited to a cooking class at Nittardi Winery in Tuscany taught by Kalus Trebes, chef/owner of Gargantua Restaurant in Frankfurt, Germany. He shared this recipe. It is so versatile that I always keep a jar in the refrigerator. Not only is it delicious on toast or a frittata for breakfast, it is also a perfect accompaniment to meat or chicken.

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
8 cups diced green tomatoes (2 pounds)
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice, heated
Grated zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon

In a large, heavy skillet, combine the sugar and water and bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat and simmer until the sugar begins to turn golden. Add the tomatoes, heated orange juice and zest. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the tomatoes are soft and the liquid has reduced to a thick syrup, about 30 minutes. Cool.

Makes about 3 to 4 cups.


BEEF BRISKET ROASTED WITH PRUNES IN A WINE SAUCE

This roast is best served well done. It is important to slice the cooked meat against the grain.

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 onions, thinly sliced
1 (6- to 8-pound) lean beef brisket
5 medium carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
1 (28-ounce) can peeled tomatoes, undrained
1 1/2 to 2 cups red wine
1 head garlic, cloves separated, unpeeled
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound pitted prunes

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Heat the oil in large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add minced garlic and onions and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes.

Transfer garlic and onions to a large roasting pot and place meat on top, fat side up. Add carrots, parsley, tomatoes, wine and unpeeled garlic cloves. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Bring to a boil, cover, and bake for 2 to 3 hours, or until meat is tender. Add the prunes the last 30 minutes of baking.

Transfer the meat to a wooden board and slice. Return to pot and keep warm.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.


SUFGANIYOT (JELLY DOUGHNUTS) DEEP-FRYING RULE

The temperature of the cooking oil is very important when frying doughnuts: If it is too cool, the doughnuts will absorb it and be greasy; if it is too hot, the doughnuts will burn on the outside and remain uncooked inside. Use a frying (candy) thermometer to establish and maintain the proper heat.

These doughnuts can be fried one or two days in advance and refrigerated in plastic bags. When ready to serve, heat in the oven and they will puff up as if they were just fried.

1 package active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (105 to 115 F)
Granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted margarine, melted
1 egg, separated
2 teaspoons orange juice
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup raspberry or strawberry jam
Vegetable oil for frying

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Add a pinch of sugar and set aside until foamy, about 5 minutes.

Blend margarine, egg yolk, orange juice and yeast mixture in the bowl of an electric mixer. Gradually add flour, 2 teaspoons sugar and salt and blend well. Cover with a towel and let rise until the dough doubles, about 45 minutes.

Place dough on a well-floured board and knead into a flat disc, adding more flour if needed. Roll dough out with a rolling pin to a thickness of 1/4 inch. Using a cooking cutter, cut out 2-inch rounds. Top half the rounds in the middle with 1 teaspoon of jam and brush the edges with the egg white. Place plain rounds on top of jam-covered rounds; pinch edges closed to seal. Place doughnuts on a parchment-covered cookie sheet, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and let rise, about 45 minutes.

Reseal each doughnut.

Using a deep fryer or a heavy pot and a frying thermometer, heat about 4 inches of oil to 375 degrees. Fry three or four doughnuts at a time, turning them with a slotted spoon or tongs when one side is browned, and continuing to fry until brown all over, about 2 to 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels.

To serve, roll doughnuts in 1 cup of granulated sugar and serve immediately, or, to reheat, place on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake at 350 F for 10 to 15 minutes or until heated through.

Makes about 12 doughnuts.


FRIED ZUCCHINI STICKS

These crisp and crunchy zucchini sticks go well with any menu. They are best fried at the last moment. But, if prepared ahead and reheated in a hot oven, they can be just as crisp.

4 medium zucchini, unpeeled
1 cup flour
1 cup bread crumbs
1 teaspoon dried basil
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 eggs
Vegetable oil for frying

Slice zucchini lengthwise into quarters; cut in half crosswise and set aside.

Place the flour in a small paper bag and set aside. Place the bread crumbs and dried basil in another small bag. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside. Place the eggs in a bowl and beat well.

Drop 4 to 6 zucchini sticks into the bag containing the flour, shaking the bag to coat. Transfer to a metal strainer and shake off the excess flour. Dip the flour-coated zucchini sticks into the beaten egg and then coat with the bread crumb mixture. Place on a baking sheet lined with paper towels. (You can hold the zucchini sticks at this point for at least 1 hour.)

Preheat oil in a deep-fryer or wok to 375 F.

Drop the coated zucchini sticks into the heated oil and fry until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Transfer them to a napkin-covered platter and serve immediately.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.


FOOD PROCESSOR POTATO LATKES

1 large yellow onion, peeled
4 medium baking potatoes, peeled
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
4 extra-large eggs
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
Pinch baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Vegetable oil for frying

Chop the onion into small dice with the knife blade in a food processor. Remove the knife blade, insert the shredder blade, and grate the potatoes. Immediately transfer the potato and onion mixture to a large bowl, and add the lemon juice, eggs, flour, baking soda, salt and pepper. Mix well.

Heat 1/8 inch of oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Spoon the batter, about 1/3 cup at a time, into the hot oil and flatten with the back of the spoon to make 2- to 3-inch latkes. Cook on one side until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes; then turn and cook on the other side, about 2 minutes. (Turn only once.) Drain the latkes well on paper towels and serve immediately.

Makes about 2 dozen latkes.

Delizioso: Chanukah with an Italian flair


While enjoying my favorite foods on a recent trip to Italy, I began to think about Chanukah, even though it was only October. This was a natural association, because the Italians love to prepare foods with olive oil, and the traditional dishes served during Chanukah are fried in oil to commemorate the tiny supply of oil that burned for eight days and nights in the ancient temple — a real miracle.

Chanukah favorites include latkes and sufganiyot (deep-fried jelly-filled doughnuts). These and other Chanukah specialties will be enjoyed by many families during the eight-day holiday, which begins at sundown on Dec. 20.

Chanukah is always a festive occasion for my family. We gather together on at least one of the eight nights to celebrate with favorite foods and exchange gifts, and the children spin the dreidel, a game that dates back to ancient times.

This year, a different flavor will be added to our menu by including some of the recipes I collected in Italy with Chanukah in mind.

Olive oil is the oil of choice in Italy and a healthful one, as it is among the highest in monounsaturated fat.

The recipes I have chosen offer a wide variety of authentic Italian flavors. There is even a latke made with polenta (boiled cornmeal). Shaped into pancakes and fried in oil, it can be served with olive paste or your favorite latke topping.

Sicilian Rice Cakes, also called L’Orancini — or, as I like to call them, Risotto Latkes — are made with Italian arborio rice and filled with two Italian cheeses, tomato paste and parsley, and are hearty enough to serve as a vegetarian main course.

For an Italian sweet touch, make Farfallette (Butterfly) cookies. Ribbons of dough are twisted and tied into butterfly shapes, fried in oil and dusted with powdered sugar. Another favorite is Scavatelle, deep-fried pastries. I can’t help but think how perfect these fritters, fried in olive oil and dipped in a honey syrup, would be to serve for our Chanukah celebration.


SICILIAN RICE CAKES (RISOTTO LATKES)

1/2 cup chopped or grated mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
2 tablespoons tomato sauce
1 cup breadcrumbs
Risotto (recipe follows)
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Combine mozzarella, Parmesan, parsley and tomato sauce in a small bowl.

Place breadcrumbs in a shallow bowl. Sprinkle hands lightly with breadcrumbs, scoop up 1 tablespoon of Risotto in your hands and shape into a flat oval; make an indentation in the center of each with your thumb. Place 1 teaspoon of mozzarella mixture in the center and cover the oval with another tablespoon of the Risotto. Mold into 2- to 3-inch ovals, enclosing mozzarella mixture completely. Roll in breadcrumbs to coat.

Heat oil in a nonstick skillet, and fry rice cakes, a few at a time, until crisp and golden brown on all sides. Using a slotted spoon, transfer them to paper towels to drain.

Makes about 12.


RISOTTO

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 1/4 cups arborio rice
3 to 4 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large, heavy skillet. Add onion and sauté over medium heat until soft. Add rice and mix well with a wooden spoon. Add 1 or 2 ladles of hot broth or enough to cover the rice. Cook, stirring constantly, as the broth is absorbed. Continue adding broth, a little at a time, until the rice is tender, about 15 minutes.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter, whipping cream and Parmesan cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Continue cooking 2 to 3 minutes longer. Cool. 

Makes 4 to 6 servings.


POLENTA FRITTA (CORNMEAL LATKES)

2 1/2 quarts milk or water
2 1/2 cups coarse yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons salt or to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup olive or vegetable oil
1 jar (6 ounces) olive paste

Bring milk to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Pour the cornmeal in slowly, in a thin stream, stirring constantly. Add salt and pepper, reduce the heat to low, and cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid has absorbed and the cornmeal is thick, about 30 minutes.

Wet a large cutting board with water; spread the cooked polenta evenly over the surface with a wet spatula to a thickness of 1/2 inch. Set aside until completely cooled.

Cut polenta into 3-inch rounds with a cookie cutter.

In a nonstick skillet, heat 1/4 inch of oil and fry the latkes until golden brown on both sides. Spread with olive paste.

Makes 24 Risotto Latkes.


FARFALLETTE DOLCE (SWEET BUTTERFLIES)

2 egg yolks
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon lemon
juice
1/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon sweet wine
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
Vegetable oil for frying
Powdered sugar

Beat egg yolks in a large bowl. Blend in granulated sugar. Add lemon juice, milk, wine and olive oil. Gradually add flour and salt, mixing well after each addition.

Knead dough on a floured board until smooth. Cover with a towel and let rest for 30 minutes.

Roll dough out very thin. With pastry cutter or sharp knife, cut dough into strips 6 inches long and 3/4 inches wide. Tie each strip into a knot to make butterfly shapes.

Heat vegetable oil to 370 F in a deep fryer or deep, heavy pot. Fry pastries until golden brown on both sides, turning once, being careful not to crowd. Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Cool. Place on a large platter. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Makes 2 dozen.


SCAVATELLE (FRIED PASTRIES)

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon olive oil
Peel of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch salt
1 cup flour
Honey Syrup (recipe follows)
Olive oil for frying

Place water, cinnamon stick, olive oil, lemon peel, sugar and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 or 3 minutes. Remove peel and cinnamon stick. Add flour all at once and, using a wooden spoon, mix until dough comes together. It will be lumpy.

Spoon dough onto a floured board, punch down, and knead into a flat disc to remove lumps. Pull off pieces of dough and roll out into thin ropes. Cut into 6-inch ropes and, working with one rope, bring one end of the rope around to form a loop, crossing over the other end (leaving 1-inch ends) and pinching to resemble a bow tie. Place on paper towels and cover with a clean, dry dish towel.

Heat oil in a deep fryer or heavy saucepan and fry pastries until browned. Dip in Honey Syrup and serve at once.

Makes about 4 dozen.


HONEY SYRUP

1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon sugar
Peel of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon water

Place honey, sugar, lemon peel and water in a saucepan. Mix well, simmer over low heat, and discard lemon peel.

Makes about 1/4 cup. 

It’s All About the Olive Oil


 

“I like to have fun in the kitchen,” said Susie Fishbein, a stay-at-home mother of four — three girls and a boy — who became an overnight success with the publication of her cookbook, “Kosher by Design: Picture-perfect food for the holidays & every day” (Mesorah, 2003).

While some food writers automatically push the same old latke and brisket menu at Chanukah, Fishbein offers a lighter touch by mixing in Mediterranean fare. And although she tweaks culinary tradition, she honors it. Fishbein believes in presenting beautiful food in unique ways.

Because Fishbein never attended culinary school, she has empathy for the home cook who is working blindly from a stranger’s instructions and, maybe, a picture. Her recipes are easy to follow; even novices can achieve professional results.

Although she is playful and adventurous, Fishbein is serious about finding inspiration.

She talks to lots of people, asking them about their favorite foods. She reads restaurant menus the way some people study the stock market. She’s never just eating; she’s figuring out what ingredients she’s tasting and which flavors compliment each other. Her aim is to keep ahead of the kosher curve.

“Creating recipes is my forte,” she said. To invent novel ways of preparing food, she spends huge amounts of time experimenting in the kitchen. She asks her husband and children to test her creations.

“Through trial and error, I attempted a new dish several months ago,” she said with a laugh. “It went through three phases before my family said: ‘Give it up! It just isn’t any good.'”

With a bubbly personality, Fishbein describes a recent December when a Hadassah chapter on Long Island invited her to demonstrate how to make beignets, a type of French fritter.

“Beignets are fresh and exciting at Chanukah,” she said. “A change of pace from jelly doughnuts.”

Because she expected 200 Hadassah women at the demonstration, Fishbein asked her mother for assistance.

“Ironically, I don’t come from a long line of good cooks,” she said. “My ancestors were amazing women, bold beyond their time. But we gagged on their food.”

Watching Fishbein whipping up the beignet batter and frying fritters, her mother said: “Those aren’t beignets, they’re punchkis!” She then claimed that Fishbein’s grandmother used to make an Ashkenazi rendition of this French confection. “It’s the one thing that Bubbe made well!”

Fishbein found this hiliarious, because she had searched long and hard for this upscale idea. Then, through a series of missteps followed by corrections, she perfected her version of the recipe, only to find something similar had been in the family for decades.

Every Chanukah, Fishbein throws a block party and includes all of her neighbors. Inviting 18 adults and 14 children, she serves many of the recipes from “Kosher by Design,” especially the ones calling for olive oil.

Olive oil, a precious commodity in Jerusalem during the Second Temple period, is at the heart of Chanukah cooking. After the Maccabees prevailed in a series of bitter battles, there was only a 24-hour supply of oil left to light the Temple menorah.

This created a crisis, because it took eight days to replenish lamp oil. But, miracle of miracles, one day’s worth of oil lasted eight days. Paying homage to this joyous event, no Chanukah menu would be complete without food fried in oil.

True to this theme, Fishbein serves family and friends Rigatoni ala Norma, a scrumptious Italian dish made with red sauce riddled with fried eggplant and basil. Her Parmesan Crusted Grouper is a remarkably easy recipe that yields amazingly delicious results.

A perennial favorite, Greek Tomato-Spinach Pizza is surrounded by phyllo dough and layered with fried veggies and ricotta and mozzarella cheeses. Fishbein likes these two dairy recipes because of the role cheese plays in the Chanukah story.

Aware that food is mightier than the sword, Judith, an unsung heroine, entertained an enemy general and plied him with salty cheese. To quench his thirst, he consumed far too much wine. After he fell asleep from the wine, Judith cut off his head with his sword, helping her people prevail against the enemy forces.

Today, the Festival of Lights remains a joyous occasion. In accordance with the holiday’s spirit, there’s a photo of a glittering table flooded with glowing candles and blue and gold accouterments in the Chanukah chapter of “Kosher by Design.”

Fishbein knows how to turn an ordinary dining room into a dazzling scene that impresses guests. She has become the doyenne of Jewish entertaining. As a matter of fact, she’s publishing “Kosher by Design Entertains” in time for Passover.

No matter what your home looks like, Fishbein suggests firing up your imagination when setting holiday tables (see page 50). Last Chanukah, her house was under construction. “We had bare walls down to the studs,” she said. “The place was a disaster zone.” Yet at her annual Chanukah party, she overshadowed chaos with extravagance.

“Would you believe the photo from my cookbook was actually my table — taken during the demolition,” she said. “It goes to show, you can create ambiance anywhere.”

But how do the creatively challenged get started? Fishbein suggests beginning with the best food. Yet, she says, it’s not only what you serve, but how you serve it.

A simple garnish creating contrast, an offbeat tablecloth such as a quilt, an Oriental pot filled with flowering plants — these things elevate the mundane to the magnificent. Search your house for lovely objects long forgotten. Mix and match things representing different styles and adapt them when you entertain.

“Above all, enjoy yourself,” Fishbein said. “Let each meal be a wonderful journey — the sharing of something special with people you care about and love.”

Rigatoni Ala Norma

6 medium Asian eggplants, unpeeled and cut into 1/2-inch thick slices crosswise

Salt to taste

1 1/4 cups or more olive oil

Freshly ground pepper to taste

4 large cloves garlic, roughly chopped

2 (28-ounce or 32-ounce) cans whole plum tomatoes, drained and chopped

1 tablespoon sugar

3-4 fresh basil leaves, chopped, plus ex

tra for garnishing

1 pound rigatoni, uncooked

Paper towels

Lay eggplant slices in a single layer. Lightly salt both sides. Cover with paper towels. Let sit for 20 minutes. Press on paper towels occasionally to soak up water that will come from eggplants.

In a large frying pan, heat 1 cup, or more, of olive oil over medium high heat. Make sure you have at least an inch of oil, so it will cover the slices and eliminate the need for flipping each piece over. When oil is hot, carefully add the eggplant in batches and fry until golden on both sides. Add more oil, if necessary. Transfer to clean paper towels and drain. Season generously with salt and black pepper.

Place 1/4 cup olive oil in a large pot. Add the garlic and sauté until golden. Add the tomatoes and any accumulated juices. Add the sugar and simmer about 15 minutes. The sauce will thicken. Add the chopped basil leaves and simmer three to four minutes longer.

While the sauce simmers, prepare the pasta according to package directions until al dente (chewy). Drain, reserving one cup of the pasta water in case sauce needs thinning.

Toss the pasta with the eggplant and sauce. Garnish with fresh basil leaves.

Makes six to eight servings.

Greek Tomato-Spinach Pizza

1/4 cup olive oil

2 cups chopped onion

3 garlic cloves, minced

3 (10-ounce) boxes frozen chopped

spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

2 teaspoons dry oregano

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

15 ounces ricotta cheese

10 sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed

1/4 cup butter, melted

4-6 fresh tomatoes, evenly sliced

1 1/2 cups grated mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 400 F.

In a skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic. Sauté about five minutes, or until onion is transparent.

Add spinach and saute until all excess moisture has evaporated. Add oregano, basil and pepper. Mix well. Remove from heat. Mix in ricotta cheese. Set aside.

Grease a large jelly roll pan (the kind with a small rim). Lay one sheet of phyllo in it. The phyllo may be just a little bigger than the pan. Brush phyllo with melted butter. Top with a second phyllo sheet and brush with melted butter.

Repeat process until all ten sheets are buttered. Roll the ends of phyllo into themselves to form the “pizza crust.” NOTE: Phyllo dough dries out quickly, so keep sheets covered with a damp cloth until use.

Using a spatula, spread the spinach ricotta mixture in an even layer over the phyllo. Arrange tomatoes over this layer. Sprinkle with mozzarella. Bake 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. When cool enough to handle, cut into squares.

Makes 12 servings.

Parmesan Crusted Grouper

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/3 cup butter, softened but not melted

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 scallions, thinly sliced

4 small (1-inch thick) grouper fillets

1 lemon

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat broiler to high.

In a small bowl, combine Parmesan, butter, mayonnaise and scallions. Reserve.

Place grouper fillets on a lightly greased boiler pan. Squeeze juice from lemon over fillets. Sprinkle with black pepper.

Broil 6 inches from heat for 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Spread tops of the fillets with cheese mixture. Return to oven and broil for two minutes longer, or until topping is lightly browned and bubbly. Remove fillets to platter.

Makes four servings.

Beignets

4-6 cups vegetable oil

1 cup milk

1 cup water

1 large egg

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

4 teaspoons sugar

confectioners’ sugar

Pour oil into a deep pot to a depth of 3-4 inches. Heat oil to 370 F.

In a large bowl with the mixer at medium-high speed, combine the milk, water and egg. Add the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Mix until batter is smooth.

Using a 1/8 cup measure, drop the batter into the hot oil and fry about 3-4 minutes. Don’t make them much bigger or the inside won’t cook properly. The beignets will float to the surface. Turn them a few times, until the beignets are golden on both sides. Remove and drain on paper towels. Use a strainer to sprinkle confectioners’ sugar on all sides. Serve hot.

Makes 20-24 beignets.

Recipes from “Kosher by Design: Picture Perfect Food for the Holidays & Every Day,” by Susie Fishbein (Mesorah).

 

Spicy ‘Shores’ of the Mediterranean


Celebrated cookbook author and chef Joyce Goldstein can trace her bloodline to a Russian shtetl, but her heart and soul lie in the Mediterranean.

In "Cucina Ebraica" (Chronicle Books, 1998) and "Sephardic Flavors" (Chronicle Books, 2000) she explored Italian Jewish and Spanish Jewish cuisine, and now, to round out the trilogy, in "Saffron Shores" (Chronicle Books, $35) she continues her Mediterranean culinary journey with the exotic cuisine of the Maghreb: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya, even including related Judeo-Arabic countries like Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran.

"I have been cooking this food for I cannot tell you how many years," said the former chef/owner of the renowned Mediterranean restaurant Square One in San Francisco. "When I was doing research for ‘Sephardic Flavors,’ I realized the subject was so huge I couldn’t do it all in one book, so I covered the northern Mediterranean in ‘Sephardic Flavors’ and the southern Mediterranean in ‘Saffron Shores.’ Here the style of cooking changes with a lot more spices and herbs and additional uses of fruit, but, of course, there is some overlap."

Notable for its absence is Israeli cuisine. "I left it out because it’s a hodgepodge," she explains. "The last time I was in Israel I was served sashimi and Thai-flavored something or other, and I thought, sorry, I didn’t come here for that. Israeli cuisine is a melting pot, a lot like America. Whoever is there is cooking Romanian food, Italian food, Yemenite food. Is there Israeli cuisine? I think it’s fusion, so I didn’t give it much attention. It’s not pure. I’d rather go back to the sources."

Indeed, each recipe reflects Goldstein’s impeccable research and attention to detail, and regional differences are carefully noted. For example, for the Cumin Flavored Meatballs, Goldstein offers Moroccan and Syrian variations. But she never sacrifices flavor for authenticity, adding a touch of orange to the sfenj (Moroccan Chanukah donuts), for example, and adjusting the spices in various dishes.

"The spices of North Africa are really vibrant, just incredible, so much fresher and more intense than those we can buy here," she said. "To make these recipes taste right, I often had to double them."

More than just a recipe collection, "Saffron Shores" traces the history of Jewish life in these exotic lands and its impact on the cuisine. We learn that unlike the Ashkenazim, who preserved their Judaism by isolating themselves, the Sephardim were more involved in the communities in which they lived. "They shared recipes and culinary traditions with their non-Jewish neighbors," she writes. "Their food reflected the cuisine of their homeland but adapted to follow the kosher laws."

Because the Sephardim were more active in the community, in trades and in business, there was a greater exchange of ideas between Jews and Muslims, and the similarity in recipes between Jews and their non-Jewish neighbors is striking, she notes.

"On the other hand, certain [Eastern European] dishes, when you think of them, you know they are Jewish. I have many Russian cookbooks, but I don’t see too many recipes in there for brisket or tzimmes. There’s not as much overlap between the Jewish and non-Jewish dishes. Some of the ingredients are the same, like cabbage and potatoes, but the recipes don’t track the same way that the Sephardic ones do."

A tireless researcher, Goldstein combed cookbooks from the area, written in French, to capture the authentic tastes and aromatic flavors of such dishes as Iraqi Chicken and Chickpea Pastries, Lamb Tagine with Prunes and Honey and Moroccan Chicken and Almond Pie. The latter, known as B’Stilla, Goldstein calls "a masterpiece of Moroccan cuisine."

And while most of the recipes are easy to prepare, favoring the use of fresh, local ingredients over the labor-intensive method, the savory pastries that Goldstein calls "labors of love" are worth the extra effort, she said. Teams of women would prepare them together for special occasions, a tradition that is sadly dying out. Goldstein suggests families create their own traditions by preparing these bistels, briks or buraks together. "Anything that is fried is appropriate for Chanukah. The Tunisian briks are rounder in shape and contain egg, as compared to the bistels from Morocco and buraks from Algeria," she explains, "but they all can be fried."

For those who can’t think of Chanukah without potatoes, there are potato filled briks from Tunisia. But Goldstein offers a variety of fillings for these pastries, from beef or lamb to feta cheese to chicken with chickpea to spinach with pine nuts. Depending on the region, the dough may be phyllo, yeast raised, short crust or semolina, and the pastries may be baked as well as fried.

These spice-infused pastries make an alluring addition to any Chanukah table. And for Ashkenazic Jews, what an exotic change from latkes.

>Cumin Flavored Meatballs With Onion Jam and Spicy Tomato Sauce

1 pound ground beef

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1¼4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

11¼2 teaspoons salt

1¼2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Light a fire in a charcoal grill. (You may also use a skillet heated over medium-high heat.)

2. In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients. Mix well, form into 16 oval meatballs wrapped around skewers, or into eight oval patties.

3. Grill or cook in oil on a hot pan until browned on all sides.

4. Serve with onion jam and tomato sauce.

Serves four.

Moroccan Chanukah Doughnut

2 envelopes active dry yeast

1¼4 cup sugar

1¼2 cup warm water

4 cups all-purpose flour

1¼2 teaspoon salt

2 eggs, lightly beaten (optional)

grated zest of 1 orange

1¼4 cup canola oil, melted margarine,

or melted unsalted butter (optional)

11¼2 to 2 cups warm water or part

water, part orange juice

Peanut or canola oil for deep frying

Granulated sugar for sprinkling or warm honey for dipping (optional)

1. Dissolve the yeast and sugar in the water. Let sit until foamy, about 10 minutes.

2. Pour into a large bowl and gradually stir in the flour and salt.

3. Stir in the eggs, zest, and 1¼4 cup oil, margarine or butter, if using.

4. Stir in just enough water or water and juice to make a soft and elastic dough.

5. Knead well, with a dough hook or by hand, on a lightly floured surface, until the dough is elastic, smooth and shiny.

6. Roll the dough into a ball, place in an oiled bowl and turn to coat.

7. Cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled (11¼2 to 2 hours).

8. Oil your hands. Divide the dough into 20 balls about 2 inches in diameter.

9. In a deep saucepan or wok, heat 3 inches of oil to 365 F.

10. Take a ball of dough, make a hole in the center, and pull it out to make a doughnut shape. Deep fry a few at a time until the donuts are puffed and golden.

11. Using a slotted spoon or skimmer, transfer to paper towels to drain.

12. While still hot, sprinkle with granulated sugar or dip in warm honey. Serve warm.

Makes about 20 donuts.

Judy Bart Kancigor, the author of “Melting Pot Memories” (Jan Bart
Publications, $19.95), can be found on the Web at

The Festival of Lite


Yes, the time of the fatty foods is upon us. But eight days of latkes and jelly doughnuts can be the least of problems for those who celebrate their holidays by eating out.

“The bad news is, most restaurant meals are high in calories and fat,” said nutritionist Anita Jones. “If you’re like most people in Southern California, we tend to eat out a lot.”

Even “heart healthy” or “light” menu options can be filled with hidden fat, sodium or other dangers for those on special diets or trying to eat healthy. While nutrition labels have been required by federal law on all packaged foods since 1994, the secrets of a meal prepared in a restaurant kitchen stay in the kitchen.

At a recent seminar for patients at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Jones laid out some ways to get healthy food at favorite restaurants. “It’s really about consumer demand,” she said. “You have to speak up and let them know you want healthier dishes.” She also recommended common-sense alternatives like sharing or taking home portions of large entrees, or requesting that salt, oil and other undesired items be left out of the prepared foods.

The recent trend toward keeping down carbohydrate intake has left many diners still unaware of potentially dangerous levels of fat in their restaurant meals, Jones said. Even pasta or chicken dishes labeled with a heart or other “healthy” symbol can contain upwards of 70 grams of fat — approximately equal to one stick of butter — when they are cooked and drizzled in oil. She cited olive oil in particular as a common, healthy ingredient that diners should still watch out for if they are concerned about fat intake. “What looks healthy may not be,” Jones said. “On many menus, salads can be the highest fat options.”

Since 1991, Jones and her colleagues have been analyzing the nutritional content of restaurant meals throughout Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties.

The result is the “Healthy Dining in Los Angeles” restaurant guide (Healthy Dining Publications, $19.95), with weight and health-conscious options from more than 80 restaurant menus, from the Acapulco in Azusa to the Whole Foods Market in Woodland Hills, in addition to coupons and 40-plus recipes from restaurant chefs. Broken down according to fat, cholesterol, sodium, protein and carbohydrate content, the menus allow diners to plan ahead and eat healthy meals out. The menus also make clear which special requests are necessary to make the meals healthier, particularly items that patrons should ask that no added salt or less oil be used in preparation.

At the Cedars-Sinai seminar, representatives from a handful of local restaurants offered samples of recommended dishes. Real Food Daily restaurant offered some of its vegan fare, while Chaya Brasserie chef Shigefumi Tachibe showed off his Organic Tofu Caesar salad. Tachibe said that based on customer requests for healthy dining options, the lower-fat and lower-sodium dish has replaced a more traditional mix as the standard Caesar salad at his restaurants.

“Restaurants are the weakest part of the whole nutrition world,” Jones said, who added that the trend is changing as savvy diners are asking for healthier food. “Chefs are artists, they’re creators and they are really rising to this challenge.”

With the right information and an accommodating kitchen, even your favorite restaurant experience this Chanukah can be a festival of lite.

Another Oil Miracle


Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, is a time to recall the miracle that occurred more than 2,000 years ago, and celebrate the discovery of the small amount of oil that burned for eight days, the amount of time needed to prepare pure oil from the local olive trees to rekindle the flame. That miracle is the focus of the Chanukah celebration that begins at sundown Friday, Nov. 29. Was it also a miracle that this event occurred at this time, since the months of November and December are the usual time for the olive harvest?

In early November this year, we joined Faith Willinger, our Florence-based food-journalist friend, on a trip to Naples and the Campania area of Italy. One of the highlights of our trip was spending several days at the hotel-restaurant La Caveja, located in the small village of Pietravairano, just a one-hour drive north of Naples.

At our first meal, La Caveja’s owner, Berardino Lombardo, placed a bottle of olive oil on the table and directed us to use it on almost every dish. The olive oil was bright green, fruity and delicious. When we asked him when the olive oil had been pressed, his answer was “early this morning.” The next day, he invited us to join him to pick olives and watch the crush at the local frantoio (olive oil mill). We were delighted and accepted his offer.

This small olive mill custom crushes olives from the nearby area for small local growers. Families had brought their olives and were waiting with their children, huddled in the cold, while their olives were pressed into oil.

Then every shape container possible was filled with this liquid gold. It was exciting to see all the activity.

When we arrived at the olive oil mill, our olives were in a large wooden container ready to be processed. The olives were first washed, then crushed into a paste. The paste was then pressed to produce organic extra virgin olive oil. As the flow of newly pressed olive oil began to glow, a small amount was poured into a pitcher, and Berardino brought out fresh bread to dip into the oil. It was the first time we had ever tasted olive oil that was only minutes old and it was absolutely delicious!

On my return from Italy, I was inspired, during Chanukah, to serve our family several of the dishes that were introduced to us by Berardino. They are perfect for the holiday as all these dishes use either olives or foods fried in olive oil. Included are Potato Gnocchetti, Olive Fritte, Fried Zucchini Sticks and Frittelle.

One of our family Chanukah traditions is to exchange gifts, and this year we are giving each of our guests a bottle of fresh Italian olive oil to take home.

Olive Fritte (Cicchetti)

36 pitted green olives

1 cup flour

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup fine dry bread crumbs (try mixed with Parmesan)

Olive oil for deep frying

1. Place the olives in a bowl, cover with cold water and allow them to soak for at least 15 minutes to remove some of the salt. Rinse the olives and dry them well.

2. Roll the olives lightly in flour, then dip in beaten egg, and roll them in bread crumbs to coat. Transfer to a paper towel- lined plate and refrigerate one hour.

3. In a skillet or deep fryer, heat 2-to 3-inches of oil over medium heat. Place the olives in the oil and fry them, rolling them around to brown evenly.

4. Remove the olives with a slotted spoon and spread on paper towels to drain. Serve while still warm. They can be held for a few hours, then reheated in a 250 F oven. Makes 36.

Fried Potato Gnocchetti

1 large potato (about 1 pound)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 egg

Salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon minced parsley

1 cup fine dried bread crumbs

Olive oil for frying

1. Peel potatoes and cut in cubes. Place on steam rack over boiling water. Cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork. Transfer to a large glass bowl, mash with a potato masher and let cool slightly. Add butter, cheese, egg, salt and pepper and mix well. Cover and refrigerate until cold. Add additional grated Parmesan or bread crumbs if potato mixture is too moist.

2. To shape potato mixture, oil the palm of your hands and roll a tablespoon of the mixture between your palms into an egg shape. Spread crumbs on a shallow dish and coat gnocchetti lightly with crumbs. Place on a paper towel-lined platter and refrigerate until ready to fry.

3. Heat about 1-2 inches of oil in a medium skillet. When oil is hot, fry a few gnocchetti until they are golden brown on all sides, about two minutes. Remove with the slotted spoon and place on paper towels to drain. Transfer to a large dish and serve hot.

Fried Zucchini Sticks

4 medium zucchini, unpeeled

1 cup flour

1 cup bread crumbs

2 garlic cloves, peeled

6 fresh basil leaves, or 1 teaspoon dried basil

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 to 3 eggs

Vegetable oil for frying

Grated Parmesan cheese

1. Slice the zucchini lengthwise into quarters; cut in half, crosswise, and set aside.

In a small, brown paper bag, place the flour and set aside. In the bowl of a processor or blender, blend the bread crumbs, garlic and basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Place this mixture in another small, brown paper bag and set aside. Place the eggs in a bowl and beat well.

2. Drop four to six zucchini sticks into the bag containing the flour, shaking the bag to coat. Transfer to a metal strainer and shake off the excess flour. Dip the flour-coated zucchini into the beaten egg and then coat with the bread-crumb mixture. Place on a baking sheet lined with paper towels. (You can hold them at this point for at least one hour.)

3. Preheat the oil in a deep-fryer or wok to 375 F.

4. Drop the coated zucchini sticks into the heated oil and fry until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Transfer them to a napkin-covered basket or platter; sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

Frittelle (Fried Ribbons)

11¼2 cups flour

11¼2 tablespoons sugar

Pinch salt

Grated zest of 1 orange

11¼2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

3 tablespoons milk

1 large egg

1 tablespoon orange juice

1 teaspoon vanilla

Olive oil for frying

Powdered sugar for garnish

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the flour, sugar, salt and orange zest. Add the butter and blend until crumbly.

In a small bowl, beat the milk, egg, orange juice and vanilla together. Pour the milk mixture into the flour mixture all at once and blend until the dough comes away from the bowl. Place wax paper on work surface and sprinkle with flour. Knead the dough into a ball, and divide in half. Using a rolling pin, roll each half of the dough out very fine on the prepared work surface until it is 1¼8-1¼4-inch thick. Using a scalloped ravioli cutter or a knife, cut the dough into ribbons about 4-inches long and 1-inch wide.

Heat oil in a heavy deep-sided frying pan to 350 F, and fry a few of the ribbons at a time very quickly — 20 seconds — until golden. Drain on plates lined with paper towels, cool slightly and sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.

Variations: Twist the ribbon twice and pinch it closed in the center. Or cut the dough into rectangles and make two parallel small cuts in the center.


Judy Zeidler is the author of “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” (William Morrow & Co, 1999), “The 30-Minute Kosher Cook” (William Morrow & Co, 1999) and the “International Deli Cookbook” which is available at the Broadway Deli in Santa Monica. Her Web site is members.aol.com/jzkitchen.

Deep Fry Diversity


The historical foundations of Chanukah are well documented, in the Apocrypha’s First and Second Books of the Maccabees and "The Jewish War" and "Jewish Antiquities," written by the Jewish historian, Josephus, in the first century of the common era. As these sources relate, in the year 167 B.C.E. the king of Syria, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, decreed that only pagan gods could be worshiped in the temples, and the practice of Jewish rituals, including circumcision and Sabbath observance, was outlawed under penalty of death. Although many Jews, looking to assimilate into Hellenic society, acceded to Antiochus’ decrees, an elderly priest named Mattathias and his five sons (the middle son would become known as Judah Maccabee or "Judah the Hammer") bitterly opposed them and, after raising a rebel army, headed to the hills.

Thus began a bloody three-year guerrilla war against both the Syrian armies and the local Jewish assimilationists that culminated in the liberation of Jerusalem and the cleansing of the Temple there.

It’s not hard to understand why, at a time of Roman rule, the rabbis may have felt obliged to play down the idea of rebellion against an imperial army and focus attention instead on the holiday’s spiritual qualities.

An especially fortunate outcome of the shift in emphasis is that down through the centuries Chanukah has developed into a celebration not merely of resistance to tyranny but also of foods cooked in oil. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a more festive holiday, or one to be more happily observed, than that which prescribes the eating of fried foods.

Of these foods, certainly the most well-known is the potato latke, which in the United States has come to bear the same relationship to Chanukah as roast turkey does to Thanksgiving: The holiday is unthinkable without it. Latkes are of Eastern European origin (the word itself is Yiddish, of Slavic derivation), and their prominence at Chanukah is a result of the overwhelmingly Ashkenazic composition of American Jewry; among Sephardic Jews, potato latkes are about as common as Easter eggs. By no means, though, have the Sephardim had to forsake the pleasure of fried foods on Chanukah — far from it. The fried doughnuts called sfenj, for instance, are a North African Chanukah delicacy. Lightened with yeast, the doughnuts are glazed with a sugar syrup flavored with cinnamon and orange, as is often the case with Sephardic cakes and pastries. (Sfenj are also to be found in Israel, but even more popular there are the jelly doughnuts called sufganiyot, introduced in the 1930s by immigrants from Germany, where the new year is celebrated with jelly doughnuts.)

Fried doughnuts are really just more elaborate versions of fritters, and yeast-raised fritters doused in syrup are a Chanukah tradition throughout the Sephardic world, from Europe and North Africa to the Middle East. In Italy, the holiday is celebrated with fritters made from pureed squash, or from a more traditional yeast dough filled with raisins and anise seeds and finished with warm honey. Across the Mediterranean in Greece, a yeast dough is used to turn out fried puffs called loukomades; anyone who has ever visited the Café du Monde in New Orleans will recognize them as beignets, though loukomades are topped not with a half-inch of confectioner’s sugar (the tell-tale white powder on the shirtfront instantly identifies a recent cafe patron) but with crushed nuts and the omnipresent Sephardic sugar syrup.

In Greece, olive oil is still used for deep-frying, but this practice is no longer very widespread because olive oil’s smoke point — the temperature at which it begins to smoke, imparting an unpleasant flavor — is lower than that of many other types of oil, while its pronounced flavor tends to overwhelm sweet foods. Far more often, now, deep-frying is done with other types of oil, including sunflower oil (as in Turkey, where there has been a relatively recent transition from olive oil, a Spanish legacy), corn oil, peanut oil, and, in North America, canola oil. Still, whichever oil is used, the principle behind deep-frying remains the same. The heat of the oil causes browning in the natural sugars with which it comes into contact resulting in intense flavor, and if the oil is hot enough, steam will be produced inside the food, which pushes outward from the center and prevents the oil from being absorbed. Though surrounded by liquid, the food remains crisp. It is a culinary miracle worthy of celebratio, at Chanukah time or anytime else.

Sfenj (Yeast Doughnuts)

In Morocco, sfenj are a popular street food, often eaten for breakfast. Among North African Jews, they are traditionally made for Chanukah celebrations.

For doughnuts
1 package (about 2-1/2 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
2 tablespoons sugar
2-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoons salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons. vegetable or peanut oil
Grated zest of 1 orange
1/4 teaspoon orange-flower water
1/4 cup finely chopped almonds (optional)
Vegetable or peanut oil for deep-frying

For syrup (optional):
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon orange-flower water
Dash of vanilla
Confectioner’s sugar for sprinkling on top of Sfenji (optional)

For syrup (if using), mix all of the syrup ingredients together in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and cook about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally until the mixture thickens. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

In a small bowl, mix the yeast with the warm water and 1 teaspoon of sugar. Let stand until the mixture becomes frothy — about 10 minutes. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, the remaining sugar and the salt. In a medium bowl, combine the eggs, oil, orange zest, orange-flower water, the chopped almonds (if using) and the yeast mixture. Make a well in the dry ingredients and carefully pour the liquid in. Slowly incorporate the dry ingredients into the liquid until a uniform dough is formed. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough is soft, about five minutes, adding flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking. Place in a large, lightly oiled bowl and cover with a towel. Let stand in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 1/2 hours.

Punch down the dough. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to 13-inch width. With a cookie cutter or the rim of a large glass, cut out rounds about 3 inches in diameter. Use your thumbs to punch out a hole in the center as you pull up each dough round. Place the dough rounds on lightly oiled baking sheets, cover with towels and let rise until puffy, about 45 minutes.

In a large, heavy pot, heat at least 2 inches of oil to 350 degrees. Drop the doughnuts in small batches into the oil (do not crowd the pot, as it would make the oil temperature fall) and fry until golden brown on both sides, about 1 1/2 minutes per side. Remove with a slotted spoon or wide skimmer and let drain on wire racks.

Dip the warm doughnuts in the cooled syrup (let glaze harden slightly, then dip a second time) or sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes about 12.

This article appears courtesy of The Forward.

Chanukah in Casablanca


We realized that Chanukah was coming when we smelled the aromas from the bakeries in the Jewish Quarter of the city, where we all lived. In Morocco we didn’t have expensive menorahs, because it was illegal to import them from Israel. Instead, every year just before Chanukah, the blacksmith added crafting tin menorahs to his regular horseshoe trade. When the holiday was over, we discarded our tin menorahs and went back for new ones the next year.

The lights were different in Morocco because we didn’t use Chanukah candles. We used wicks and olive oil. Later, I found out from my rabbi here in Los Angeles, that according to the sages, this is the preferred way to light the chanukiah.

As with all Jewish holidays, for Jews all over the world, we had rituals and special Chanukah foods.

In Casablanca, we lit the chanukiah at sunset and then celebrated with fresh mint tea and delicious fried pastries called beignets. I remember my grandmother frying the beignets, and my mother adding the fruit jelly on top, and my cousin and I sneaking a hot beignet off the tray.

Dinner would be late that evening, with lots of extended family. We always started with six or seven salads, followed by chicken, vegetables, and a special couscous that was reserved for holidays.

Chanukah Couscous

  • 1 chicken, cut up in 8 pieces
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1/2 bunch parsley, chopped fine
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped fine
  • 2 carrots, peeled, cleaned and diced
  • 2 turnips, peeled, cleaned and diced
  • 2 zucchinis, peeled, cleaned and sliced
  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled, cleaned and diced
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 500-gram package of couscous
  • 1/2 can of garbanzo beans
  • 2 1/4 cups water
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In large Dutch oven, heat olive oil and put in onions to soften on medium heat.

Add chicken, skin-down, until brown. Next, add parsley, cilantro, and 1 1/2 cups of the water. Cover and cook on medium heat for 35 minutes. Test chicken for to see if its done, then add all vegetables. Simmer for seven minutes and remove from heat.

While chicken is cooking, rinse couscous and place in microwave-safe bowl to dry for 10 minutes. Cook in microwave for 10 minutes on high. Remove couscous and add olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and the remaining 3/4 cup of cold water.

Open the grains of the couscous with a wooden spoon. Set aside for five minutes to rest.

Cook in microwave another 10 minutes.

Place couscous on large serving platter. Arrange chicken and vegetables on top.

Serves 4.

Olive Oil Treats


Chanukah is a time to recall the miracle that occurred more than 2,000 years ago when the flame in the Holy Temple was relit with a one-day supply of oil that lasted for eight days. This was the amount of time needed to prepare pure oil from the local olive trees to rekindle the flame.

The importance of the oil is the focus of our family Chanukah celebration, which begins at sundown on Sunday, Dec. 9.

In Israel, as well as in most Middle Eastern countries, olives and olive oil have many uses.

They have been used for cooking and baking since ancient times and served as a medicine, lamp fuel and as part of many religious festivals.

Traditionally during Chanukah, families serve foods fried in oil as a reminder of the miracle. Take it one step further this year and prepare dishes using both olives and olive oil to symbolize the holiday.

It is hard to imagine Chanukah without golden brown, crispy potato latkes. This year, these latkes have a new look. They are spooned into a 6-inch skillet, fried in oil, then spread with a chopped olive mixture and cut into wedges.

The Italians use olive oil almost exclusively in their cooking, and one of my favorite recipes for Chanukah is a specialty from Sicily. Sicilian Crochettes are made from a risotto that takes about 20 minutes to make from start to finish. When ready, cool, shape into crochettes, and fill with a mixture of two cheeses, tomato paste and chopped parsley. This dish is hearty and can be served as a main course for a dairy meal.

This is a two-in-one recipe, because you can also serve the trendy risotto, so popular in most Italian restaurants, as an alternative to a pasta course.

Desserts can also be made with olive oil. Many years ago, an Israeli friend shared her Chanukah cookie recipe. They are made with olive oil, instead of butter, and coated with honey and almonds. As a special treat for family and friends, make extra cookies to be given away as Chanukah gifts.

Potato Latkes with Chopped Olives

Latkes

  • 2 large russet potatoes, peeled and shredded
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 eggs
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Chopped Olive Spread (recipe follows)

Place shredded potatoes in a large bowl and add lemon juice, egg, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.

Drain liquid that accumulates at the bottom of the bowl.

In a 6-inch nonstick skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil.

Spoon half of the potato mixture into the hot oil and gently flatten with a fork, spreading evenly. Cook on medium heat until brown on one side, for about 10 minutes. Then turn carefully and brown on the other side. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining olive oil and remaining potato mixture.

Spread a generous amount of chopped olives on top, sprinkle with additional olive oil and cut into wedges. Makes 8 servings.

Chopped Olive Spread

  • 1 cup black olives, pitted
  • 1 cup green olives, pitted
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons minced parsley
  • Chop olives coarsely, transfer to a bowl and toss with olive oil and parsley. Makes about 2 cups.

Sicilian Crochettes (Risotto Latkes)

Risotto

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 1/4 cups Arborio rice
  • 3 to 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • Salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Crochette Filling

  • 1/2 cup chopped or grated mozzarella
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 2 tablespoons minced parsley
  • 2 tablespoons tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup oil

In a large, heavy skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add onion and sauté over medium heat until soft. Add rice and mix well with a wooden spoon.

Cover with 1 or 2 ladles of hot broth, or enough to cover the rice. Cook, stirring constantly, as the broth is absorbed. Continue adding broth, a little at a time, until the rice is tender; about 15 minutes.

Add butter, cream, Parmesan and salt and pepper to taste. Continue cooking 2 to 3 minutes longer. Cool.

Filling for Crochettes: In a small bowl, combine mozzarella, Parmesan, parsley and tomato sauce.

To Prepare Crochettes: Moisten hands with water. Scoop up 2 tablespoons of risotto in your hands and shape into a flat oval; make an indentation in the center of each with your thumb. Place 1 teaspoon of mozzarella mixture in the center and cover the oval with another tablespoon of the risotto. Mold into 2-to-3 inch ovals, enclosing Mozzarella mixture completely.

In a non-stick skillet, heat oil and fry crochettes, a few at a time, until crisp and golden brown on all sides. Using a slotted spoon, transfer them to paper towels to drain. Makes about 12.

Israeli Honey-Almond Cookies

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter or margarine, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • Grated peel of 2 oranges
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 cups coarsely ground almonds
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/8 cup water

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter until creamy. Add olive oil and sugar and beat until fluffy. Add egg, cinnamon, orange peel and juice and blend well. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, baking powder and salt; then add to butter mixture a little at a time. Add 1/2 cup of the almonds and mix well. Turn dough out onto a floured board and shape into 2 (12-inch) long rolls. Refrigerate until firm.

Cut into 1/4-inch slices and arrange cookies on lightly oiled foil-lined baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees until golden brown, about 15 minutes. In a small saucepan, heat honey and water. Using a metal spatula, quickly dip cookies in warm honey, roll in remaining almonds and cool on racks. Makes about 5 dozen.

Granny’s Chanukah


I can still see my Granny, an apron protecting her good dress, her clunky lace-ups (the original granny shoes) planted firmly on her linoleum floor, grating potatoes, onions and crying. “I’m not crying ’cause I’m sad,” she’d sniff, waving the onion fumes from her face. “We’re going to eat latkes. We’re going to light the candles. And the presents — wait’ll you see what I got you!” She was gleeful, giving us the best part of her, as we gathered in her kitchen on the first day of the joyous holiday — Chanukah — the “Festival of Lights”.

My mother, Celia, my Aunt Dorothy (who is just 5 years older than me), and cousins of all ages, would crowd into her cozy kitchen to watch the Chanukah ritual and glean her annual instruction. Granny, (or Bubby — as some of us called her) being the matriarch of our family, was a self-appointed teacher, and doled out her common sense, Yiddish philosophy about latkes and life.

She would set each of us up with our own graters, give us a potato, and in her trademark Latvian/Lithuanian/untouched by the King’s English accent — ask “So, vel, isn’t it the same thing?” To Granny, love and latkes were synonymous.

“I use a combination of russets and new potatoes. Never just russets — too rough! It’s like the brawn without the brains. Like comparing a dancer to a doctor. So, after they’re grated, we drain off the liquid — don’t want potato starch going straight to our hips.” Then she’d pour peanut oil into a heated, cast iron pan. “We’ll wait until the oil gets blazing hot, that way the oil won’t penetrate our latkes. Grease on Chanukah — your whole year is clogged!” Granny would roar at that line.

“But the most important thing, make your latkes with love, even if you don’t love everyone who’s gonna eat ’em.” We giggled uncontrollably. Then she’d look us all square in the eye, wag her finger, and warn, “Forty days before a daughter is born, her husband is selected in heaven — but if you don’t put love into your latkes, you never know what might happen!”

These memories make me sad because I miss her, and because her anecdotes and advice have so enriched my life. And then I think of Grandpa (Zeda), who’d recite the story of Chanukah as we were eating our latkes. It was amazing how he made the same story sound different each year.

“Over 2,000 years ago, the Syrians and Greeks defeated the Jewish armies and confiscated their Temple in Jerusalem. They filled it with statues of foreign Gods and tried to force us to worship these idols. We refused, and were punished harshly. Finally, a small band of soldiers, led by Judah Macabee, marched to Jerusalem. Although they were outnumbered a hundred to one, they were determined. For three years, they hammered away at their enemy, until they triumphed, and miraculously won the first recorded battle for religious freedom.” Zeda would always nod at my brother, Dennis, for recognition, after he made that last statement.

“After their victory, Judah and his men climbed the mountain overlooking Jerusalem, and seeing there was no more resistance, cautiously entered the desecrated Temple. They were devastated at the ruins, but heartbroken to find the lamp of Eternal Light snuffed out. Desperately seeking pure olive oil to relight the lamp, they rummaged through cask after cask — to find only one tiny jar — enough for one day of light. They nervously poured it into the lamp. But, instead of burning for one day, it stayed lit for eight, during which time they rededicated the Temple and gave it back to the Jewish people.”

At the end Zeda had tears in his eyes, and bubby joined him. She thought no one noticed because she’d hide her face with her lace handkerchief, but we all heard her sniff. Then she’d plant a big kiss on his cheek, and drag him to his seat so she could serve him the first latke. But before he’d eat, he’d tap his glass with a spoon and, with his own brand of “grace”, pronounce wistfully, “Let’s hope, God villing, mit good health and happiness, next year, ve’ll be together again.”

Our family carries on in their tradition, lighting the Menorah for eight days, to commemorate that miraculous event. Each night at sundown, we add a candle, one the first day, two the second, until, on the eighth day, all the candles are lit. After the candle lighting, each child gets a gift wrapped in shiny blue and white paper to celebrate the colors of the Jewish flag and we dole out chocolate Chanukah gelt. Then the children play games for pennies, nuts, or candies, by spinning the dreidel, a 4-sided top.

Some years ago, we instituted our Chanukah family picnic at the park, where we play baseball and bring portable stoves to make our latkes outside. Mama Celia has inherited Granny’s role — she’s even got her speech down pat. Aunt Dorothy made a gigantic silver and blue star, under which we placed all the presents. My favorite picture of our daughters– Julie and Felicia– was taken under this star.

Granny Fanny’s Tips

for the Perfect Latke:

1) Hand grate the potatoes, celery and onions on a coarse grater. (You really can taste the difference) Otherwise, use the grating attachment on the food processor.

2) Grate the onion next to a running cold water faucet. It helps reduce the tears.

3) Shape the latkes with a rounded tablespoon or wooden spoon. Be sure to flatten them with your hands before cutting them into the pan. Big fat latkes may look appealing, but chances are when they’re golden brown on the outside, they won’t be cooked enough inside.

4) A Granny conundrum: Although it’s important to shape the latkes with your hands, don’t handle them any more than necessary. The less they’re handled, the lighter they’ll be.

5) Use peanut or vegetable oil. Sorry folks, no olive oil– it doesn’t heat hot enough.

6) Make sure your oil is blazing hot. It really does help keep the oil outside the latke.

7) Make the latkes as close to serving time as possible. Keep the first batches warm in a low oven (200 degrees) while cooking the remaining batter.

8) Remove the latkes carefully from the frying pan, so they don’t fall apart, then put them on layers of paper towels to drain. If necessary, pat the excess oil off the top.

9) Always taste the first few of the batch, then adjust the seasonings. Latkes tend to be bland, but salt, pepper, paprika, cayenne, and various herbs will spice them right up.

10) Since we are all concerned about our health, most of us don’t do much frying anymore. On Chanukah we eat fried foods to commemorate the “Miracle of the Temple Oil.” My mother, Celia, is very health conscious but she taught me, “Moderation is key in all things” so Chanukah is one of the few times of the year I give myself the present of a juicy, delicious latke.

11) Another traditional item is sour cream; it is delicious on potatoes, in general, and especially on latkes. On Chanukah, I eat sour cream on my latkes, but you can substitute yogurt or a combination of yogurt and sour cream, or even low fat sour cream. Or simply, just the traditional applesauce or my favorite, Caramelized Apples.

Granny Fanny’s Potato Latke:

Granny emphasizes that the first batch might not turn out, so consider these few fledgling latkes “one or two for the pot”.

3 new potatoes, peeled and grated

3 russet potatoes, peeled and grated

1 large onion, grated

2 cloves garlic

2 stalks celery, minced

Lemon juice as needed

4 eggs, beaten

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 cup matzo meal

1-2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon paprika

Peanut or vegetable oil as needed

Place potato mixture in large colander; rinse them with cold water to remove excess starch and moisture. Sprinkle with lemon juice to prevent discoloration. Transfer mixture to clean bowl. Stir in remaining ingredients. Heat oil in a skillet over high heat. Using a mounded tablespoon, shape latkes into 4-inch circles, pat them thin, and drop into the hot oil. Flatten the latkes with the back of the spoon. Cook for 4 minutes on each side, or until

golden brown. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately, or put into moderate oven (250 degree
s), until ready to serve.

Sweet Potato Latkes:

5 sweet potatoes or yams, peeled and grated

1 russet potato, peeled, grated and squeezed through cheesecloth

1 onion, diced

1 red bell pepper, diced

1/2 cup chives, chopped

1 tablespoon parsley, chopped

3 eggs, beaten

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 tablespoon lemon juice

3 tablespoons flour

Peanut or vegetable oil as needed

Since sweet potatoes don’t have the watery consistency as their paler cousins, you won’t have to squeeze them through cheesecloth. But the rest of the directions are the same.

Cauliflower or Broccoli Latkes:

1 head cauliflower or broccoli, par boiled,

then mashed

2 new potatoes, grated fine

1 sweet onion, grated fine

2 garlic cloves, pressed

1/2 cup fresh Italian or curly parsley,

chopped fine

1/2 cup chives, chopped fine

1/2-cup bread crumbs

1 well beaten egg

1/2-1 teaspoon salt

Pinch of cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1 cup peanut oil or vegetable oil

Combine cauliflower or broccoli, potato, onion, garlic, parsley, chives, breadcrumbs, egg, salt, cayenne pepper and thyme. Mix ingredients thoroughly; pile mixture into a rounded tablespoon. Flatten with your hands, form into 4″ circles, and drop into blazing hot oil. Fry on one side until golden brown, then flip onto the other side. Serves 4-6.

Zucchini Latkes:

1 pound zucchini

1 cup russet potatoes,

1 onion

2 garlic cloves

2 eggs, slightly beaten

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon dried basil

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon cayenne

1/4 cup flour

Peanut oil

Grate zucchini, potatoes, onion, garlic, and drain. Squeeze through a cheesecloth. Mix squash pulp with eggs, salt, spices, and flour. Fashion into circles. Heat oil in skillet, drop into the oil and fry until golden brown. Serves 6.

Walnut Latkes:

1 cup chopped walnuts

2 c mashed potatoes

2 eggs, well beaten

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1/8 cinnamon

Peanut oil for frying

Parsley for garnish

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Fry as above. Garnish with parsley.

Apple-tato Latke:

3 medium russet potatoes, coarsely grated

1 large green apple, coarsely grated

1/2 cup onion, coarsely grated

3 tablespoons flour

2 eggs, beaten

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Prepare as above.

Granny Fanny’s Applesauce:

6 green apples, peeled and quartered

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1-2 tablespoons brown sugar or honey

Grated rind and juice of 1/2 lemon

Water to barely cover

Place apples, cinnamon, sugar or honey and lemon juice into saucepan. Add water, cover, and simmer gently for about 10 minutes, or until apples are soft. Put mixture into food processor and blend as chunky or smooth as you prefer. Drizzle lemon rind and juice over the hot fruit. Serve hot or cold with latkes.

Caramelized Apples:

Beautiful on a serving plate, and an interesting alternative to applesauce.

3 tablespoons butter

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and quartered

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In heavy sauté pan, heat butter and all but 1 tablespoon of sugar. Add apple slices and vanilla. Sauté over medium high heat until sugar has caramelized to dark brown and apples are cooked. Place apples on serving plate; pour caramelized syrup over them. Sprinkle remaining sugar over the top.

Chanukah Pennies:

The roundness of these cookies symbolizes not only coins, but also no beginning and no end

1/2 cup softened butter

3/4 cup brown sugar

1 1/2 cups dark molasses

2/3 cup cold water

6 cups sifted flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon allspice

1 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon cloves

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Pinch of salt

3/4 cup pecan halves

Mix butter, sugar and molasses thoroughly. Stir in water. Sift dry ingredients and stir in butter/sugar mixture. Chill dough. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out dough very thick, about 1/2 inch. Cut with 2 1/2 inch round cookie cutter or rim of glass. Place far apart on lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake 15 minutes until golden brown. Decorate with pecan halves. Makes 32 cookies.

Chocolate Chanukah Gelt:

16 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted

Melt chocolate on top of double boiler. Using a teaspoon, spoon coin-size dollops of melted chocolate onto wax-paper-lined baking sheets. Refrigerate and set. Wrap in silver or gold foil and store in refrigerator until hardened.