Thanksgiving: Vegan and vegetarian dishes


In some ways, I’m pretty traditional when it comes to my family’s Thanksgiving Day meal: I like to plan a lot of old-fashioned farmhouse food for the holiday. 

Who doesn’t enjoy a handsome bronzed turkey with lots of stuffing, an appealing array of relishes and a lavish dessert buffet? We pour apple cider for the children, a robust red wine for the grown-ups, and catch up on all the news while enjoying our family feast. 

It should be noted, though, that not everyone is interested in the traditional turkey. Quite a few guests these days are either vegetarian or vegan, and so we always try to have a menu that will fill their plates and satisfy their appetites. That is why the side dishes are so important.

Our Thanksgiving dinner will begin with bowls of Butternut Squash Soup, garnished with my homemade salsa and served with toasted pumpkin bread. My vegan grandson, Zane, loves my Carrot-Parsnip Slaw so much he can almost eat the whole batch, so it will definitely be on our Thanksgiving menu in a double portion.

It’s never a bad idea to serve a seasonal veggie, and  because there is always a colorful selection of squash at the local farmers market, it offers the perfect solution. Just cut it into cubes and sauté with onions and tomatoes. For my husband, Marvin, it is his favorite holiday dish.

For dessert this year, I will give our daughter-in-law, Amy, the baker in our family, a recipe for a Vegan Pumpkin Spice Bundt Cake to make. I also hope to surprise everyone with scoops of homemade Nondairy Coconut Gelato to serve on the side — and offer them one more reason to give thanks!

BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP

  • Salsa (recipe follows)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted margarine, melted
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces (about 6 cups) 
  • 5 cups vegetable stock or broth
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced and mashed with 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons peeled and grated fresh ginger
  • 1/3 cup finely minced fresh flat-leaf parsley, (optional)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

 

Prepare Salsa. Set aside.

In a small stock pot, mix oil and margarine. Add onion and cook until tender and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add squash and stock. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the squash is tender when pierced with the tip of a small sharp knife.

Transfer the cooked squash and broth to a food processor or blender and puree in batches. Return the mixture to the pot and stir in the mashed garlic and ginger. Simmer briefly and stir in parsley. Taste and correct seasoning with salt and pepper. Garnish with Salsa.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

SALSA

  • 2 large tomatoes, sliced 
  • 1/2 large red onion, diced 
  • 1/2 to 1 cup minced fresh cilantro 
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice 
  • Salt to taste

 

In a medium bowl, combine tomatoes, red onion and cilantro and mix well.  Add lemon juice and salt to taste.  

Makes about 3 cups.

CARROT-PARSNIP SLAW

  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise (or vegan substitute)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons sugar 
  • 10 medium carrots, peeled and grated
  • 4 medium parsnips, peeled and grated
  • 1/3 cup raisins, plumped in grape juice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

 

In a medium bowl, combine the mayonnaise, lemon juice and sugar and blend well. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.

In a large bowl, toss the carrots, parsnips and raisins. Add the mayonnaise mixture and toss until completely combined. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

FARMERS MARKET SAUTEED SQUASH

  • 3 pounds assorted squash (zucchini, yellow neck, summer squash)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

 

Cut squash into 1/2-inch cubes. In a frying pan, add oil and sauté onion until soft. Add squash, tomato and basil, and continue to sauté until desired texture, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Just before serving, transfer to a heated bowl. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

NONDAIRY COCONUT GELATO

  • 2 (13- to 15-ounce) cans full-fat coconut milk
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup, honey or sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

 

Shake the cans of coconut milk thoroughly to incorporate the layers that form in the can. Pour 1/2 cup of coconut milk into a medium saucepan over low to warm heat. Add the cornstarch and whisk until the cornstarch is thoroughly dissolved.

Pour the remaining coconut milk into a large pot, add maple syrup and salt, and warm the coconut milk on medium-low heat, stirring until the maple syrup completely dissolves, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Pour the cornstarch mixture into the warm coconut milk while whisking gently. Heat until the gelato mixture is thick. Pour into a large bowl, and mix in the vanilla extract. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Pour the mixture into the canister of an ice cream maker, and freeze according to manufacturer’s directions. 

Makes about 6 cups.

VEGAN PUMPKIN SPICE BUNDT CAKE WITH MAPLE GLAZE

  • Maple Glaze (recipe follows)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup spelt flour
  • 3/4 cup coconut sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (15-ounce) can solid-pack pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar

 

Prepare Maple Glaze. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Oil and flour a 10-inch bundt pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugars, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt.

In a separate large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, coconut oil, almond milk, vanilla extract and vinegar. Add to dry ingredients, whisking just until combined.

Pour into prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean. Let cool for 15 minutes in the pan, then turn out on a wire rack to cool.

Drizzle Maple Glaze over completely cooled cake and let set for 10 minutes. Slice and serve.

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

MAPLE GLAZE

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Up to 2 teaspoons cold water

 

Whisk together powdered sugar, maple syrup, coconut oil and cinnamon. If it is too thick to drizzle over the cake, add 1/2 teaspoon cold water at a time.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

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

Save the self-pity, choices abound for Passover meals


For the many who feel overwhelmed by Passover because of the demands of cooking without leaven, a word or two: That should not be an obstacle.

After all, on this most celebrated of Jewish holidays, we are allowed to eat fish, meat, poultry, eggs, nuts, fruits, most vegetables and fresh herbs.

All of the recipes featured here  are nutritious, attractive, flavorful and easy to prepare. They emphasize fresh, seasonal ingredients, fewer complicated techniques, and stylish, elegant dishes. What more would you want for Passover?

The seder meals, when we recount the Exodus story, are the most important events of the holiday.  Most people, like myself, favor their own traditional menu. Each year I repeat the seder menu as a way to hold on to cherished family traditions.

The recipes are from the new cookbook “Helen Nash's New Kosher Cuisine” (Overlook Press).

BEET SOUP
With their magnificent color, delicious flavor and vitamin richness, beets are one of my favorite vegetables. In the summer I serve this soup at room temperature; in the winter I like it hot.

Ingredients:
1 1/4 pounds (570 g) beets, plus 1 small beet for garnish
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small red onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 McIntosh apple, peeled and sliced
4 1/2 cups (1.08 liters) vegetable broth
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
Kosher salt 
Freshly ground black pepper

Preparation:
Peel and slice the beets (see note below). Heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onion, garlic and apple, and saute for 5 minutes. Add the beets and broth. Bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat and cook, covered, for about 30 minutes, until the beets are tender. Cool a little.

While the soup is cooking, wrap the reserved beet tightly in foil. Bake in a toaster oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit (205 Celsius) for 30 minutes, or until just tender when pierced with the tip of a paring knife. Cool, slip off the skin, and grate.

Puree the soup in a blender until very smooth. Season to taste with the vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper.

To serve, garnish with the grated beet; makes 6 servings.

Note: I always wear thin plastic gloves when I work with beets, as this avoids staining my fingers with beet juice, which can be hard to remove.

CHICKEN SALAD WITH RADICCHIO AND PINE NUTS
This is a colorful and delicious salad with an interesting mixture of textures and tastes. The currants and pine nuts add an unusual Mediterranean piquancy.

Ingredients: 
1 small red onion, very thinly sliced
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 6 ounces/170 g each)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil for greasing the chicken
Kosher salt 
Freshly ground black pepper
1 head radicchio, shredded
1 to 2 bunches arugula, leaves torn if they are large
1/2 cup (20 g) loosely packed flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

Preparation:

Place the onion slices in a small bowl and cover with cold water. Let stand for 30 minutes. Drain and pat dry. Place in a large serving bowl.

Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and grease with oil. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Place each chicken breast in the center of a piece of cling wrap and wrap it so that it is completely covered. Place the packages in a steamer, cover and steam over high heat for about 9 minutes. (The inside of the chicken should still be pale pink.) Turn off the heat and let stand for 1 minute.

Remove the chicken and cool, still wrapped. When cool, unwrap the chicken and cut it on the diagonal into thin strips. Place in the bowl with the onions; makes 6 servings.

SWEET AND SOUR DRESSING
Ingredients:
1/3 cup (80 ml) extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup (70 g) pine nuts 
1/2 cup (115 g) raisins or currants
2 tablespoons Marsala wine
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Preparation:
Heat the oil in a saucepan. Add the pine nuts and raisins and saute over low heat until the pine nuts are lightly golden. Remove from the heat and add the Marsala and vinegar.
Add the radicchio, arugula, and parsley to the chicken and onions; toss with the dressing. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

MARINATED SALMON
This is a variation on the traditional pickled salmon sold in every Jewish delicatessen. The difference: The salmon is more delicate and less vinegary, and has a richer color. It makes a perfect Sabbath luncheon dish.

Ingredients:
6 skinless center-cut salmon fillets (about 6 ounces/170 g each)
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil for greasing the pan
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preparation:
Preheat the oven to 200 F (95 C). Grease a glass or enamel-lined baking pan that can hold the fillets in a single layer.

Pat the fillets dry with paper towels and season them lightly on both sides with salt and pepper. Place them in the dish and bake, uncovered, for 25 to 30 minutes, or until cooked to your taste.

Remove the baking pan from the oven, cover with foil, and let cool completely. (The fish will continue cooking outside of the oven.)

MARINADE 
Ingredients:
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons rice vinegar (for Passover, replace with white wine vinegar)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 small red onion, very thinly sliced (see note below)
15 dill sprigs, snipped finely with scissors, plus 2 sprigs, snipped, for garnish

Preparation: 
In a medium bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar and salt. Add pepper to taste. Pour the marinade over the salmon, add the onion and sprinkle with the 15 snipped sprigs of dill.
Cover the dish with wax paper, then foil and refrigerate for 2 to 3 days without turning.

To serve: Bring the salmon to room temperature. Place on individual plates along with some of the marinade and onions. Garnish with the fresh snipped dill; makes 6 servings.

Note: I use a mandoline to slice the onion, as it makes the cutting easier.

CHICKEN WITH POTATOES AND OLIVES
I am always pleased to come up with a dish that is a meal in itself — one that combines either chicken or meat with vegetables. This is one of my favorites, and because it is so easy to make, I often serve it at Passover. I bake it in an attractive casserole, so it can go directly from the oven to the table.

Ingredients:
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
9 garlic cloves
Kosher salt 
1/4 cup (60 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
Leaves from 10 thyme sprigs
Freshly ground black pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 6 ounces/170 g each)
5 plum tomatoes
1 pound (450 g) Yukon gold potatoes, unpeeled, quartered
1/2 cup (67 g) pitted black olives, quartered

Preparation:
Preheat the oven to 450 F (230 C). With 1 tablespoon of the oil, grease a glass, ceramic or enamel-lined baking pan that can hold all the vegetables in a single layer.

Coarsely chop 4 of the garlic cloves on a cutting board. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and, using a knife, crush them into a paste. Place the paste in a small bowl and combine it with the lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of the oil, half of the thyme leaves and pepper to taste.

Pat dry the chicken breasts with paper towels and season lightly on both sides with salt and pepper. Coat the chicken with the mixture and set aside.

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Drop the tomatoes into the boiling water; bring the water back to a boil and drain. Core the tomatoes and slip off the skin. Cut the tomatoes in half widthwise and squeeze gently to remove the seeds. (Some seeds will remain.) Cut the tomatoes in quarters.

Thickly slice the remaining 5 garlic cloves and spread them in the prepared baking pan along with the tomatoes, potatoes, olives, the rest of the thyme leaves, and the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Roast the vegetables, uncovered, for 20 minutes, or until almost tender.

Place the chicken breasts on top of the vegetables and bake, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Turn them over, spoon on some pan juices and bake for another 5 minutes, or until the chicken is slightly pink on the inside. Cover with foil for 1 minute; makes 4 servings.

STIR-FRIED SPINACH
This is a delicious recipe that captures the very essence of spinach. Now that prewashed spinach is available in almost every supermarket, you can prepare this dish in minutes.

Ingredients:
20 ounces (570 g) prewashed spinach
1 1/2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preparation:
Break the stems off the spinach leaves and discard.

Roast the pine nuts in a toaster oven on the lowest setting for 1 or 2 minutes, until they are golden. (Watch them carefully, as they burn quickly.)

Heat a wok over high heat until hot. Add the oil. Add the spinach and stir quickly until it is just wilted, no more than a minute. Season with salt and pepper. With a slotted spoon, transfer the spinach to a serving dish. Sprinkle the pine nuts on top; makes 6 servings.

CHOCOLATE MERINGUE SQUARES
These meringue squares are like cookies, but they are light, chocolaty and surprisingly low in calories. I often serve them at Passover.

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon (15 g) unsalted margarine for greasing the pan
1/2 pound (225 g) blanched almonds
6 ounces (170 g) good-quality imported semisweet chocolate, broken into small pieces
8 large egg whites (see notes)
1 cup (200 g) sugar

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 350 F (175 C). Line a 9-by-13-by-2-inch (23-by-33-by-5 cm) baking pan with wax paper and grease the paper with the margarine.

Chop the almonds in a food processor, in two batches, until medium-fine. Transfer to a bowl. Chop the chocolate in the processor until fine, and combine with the almonds.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric stand mixer. Using the balloon whisk attachment, beat at high speed until foamy. Gradually add the sugar and beat until stiff.

With a large rubber spatula, gently fold the chocolate-almond mixture into the egg whites, making a motion like a figure 8 with the spatula. Do not overmix.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out 
almost dry.

Cool on a wire rack. Invert onto a cutting board and peel off the paper. Cut into 1 1/2-inch (4 cm) squares; makes 3 1/2 dozen squares.

Notes: It is easier to separate the eggs straight from the refrigerator, when they are cold. Make sure the whites have come to room temperature before beating.

To freeze the squares, place them side by side in an air-tight plastic container, with  wax paper between the layers.

Is the pomegranate the perfect fruit?


While most Jews associate apples and bread dipped in honey with the New Year, pomegranates are considered one of the most spiritual fruits of the holiday. In addition to its many culinary delights, the pomegranate is reported to have many health benefits. Called pomum granatum by the Romans, or seeded apple, the pomegranate is one of the oldest and most beloved fruits, and some believe it was the “apple” in the Garden of Eden. Many considered it a symbol of fertility, but during Rosh Hashanah we eat pomegranates as a reminder to perform acts of good deeds. Jewish tradition says that it contains 613 seeds, the same number of laws that Jews are commanded to obey.

In Muslim tradition, Mohammed said, “Eat the pomegranate, for it purges the system of envy and hatred.”

The pomegranate has always decorated our holiday table, and last year I made a centerpiece using this colorful, regal fruit. But this year it will become part of our Rosh Hashanah dinner and to that end, I’ve created several new recipes using the seeds and juice to serve during the Jewish New Year celebration.

Pomegranates originated in Persia and in the Himalayas in northern India and were cultivated throughout the Mediterranean region as well as in China. The first pomegranate trees in California were planted by the Spanish in 1769, and the Southland’s cool winters and hot summers are the perfect conditions for the fleshy red fruit. Your neighbors might even have a tree in their backyard.

When I see pyramids of pomegranates displayed in a market it’s difficult to deny them space in my shopping cart. Buy them at your local farmers market when they are in season since they keep for several weeks in a refrigerator.

In my home it’s customary to save several pomegranates for our grandchildren to help prepare when they arrive for dinner. Their task is to peel away the outer skin, find the seeds and count them before they are served with the meal.

To peel the pomegranate, gently score the leather-like skin into quarters, and then place the entire pomegranate in a large bowl filled with water. Keeping your hands under the water, gently pull off the skin and remove the seeds, which will fall to the bottom. Carefully drain the water, discard the outer skin and fibers, and dry the seeds.

We begin our Rosh Hashanah dinner with an antipasti of salads. Start with Hummus With Pomegranate Seeds, a delicious, creamy mixture of pureed chickpeas and sesame seed paste flavored with garlic, lemon juice and olive oil, served with challah, pita bread, fresh vegetables or sliced jicama. Include a Cabbage-Carrot Slaw With Pomegranate Seeds served on a bed of thinly sliced romaine lettuce and topped with a generous amount of pomegranate seeds. Both salads are tasty and colorful and take minutes to prepare with the help of a food processor.

The main course is Roasted Lamb Shanks With Pomegranate Sauce, which tastes even better the next day and can be prepared in advance. Simply reheat and serve with noodles and your favorite vegetables.

For a refreshing dessert, prepare homemade non-dairy Pomegranate and Lime Sorbet and serve it with Pomegranate Jelly-Filled Cookies that are rolled in nuts, baked and filled with a dollop of pomegranate jelly.

Hummus With Pomegranate Seeds

l can (15 ounce) garbanzo beans, with liquid
1 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
1/2 cup lemon juice
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/3 cup olive oil
6 fresh parsley sprigs, stemmed
1 to 2 teaspoons salt
Pomegranate seeds for garnish

Place the garbanzo beans in a processor or blender and process until coarsely pureed.
Add the tahini, lemon juice, garlic and cumin; process until smooth. Continue processing, adding olive oil in a steady stream until well blended. Blend in the parsley leaves and l teaspoon of salt. Add additional salt to taste. Garnish with pomegranate seeds.
Makes about 3 cups.

Roasted Lamb Shanks With Pomegranate Sauce

8 lamb shanks, cut in half crosswise
1/2 cup olive oil
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 large onions, finely chopped
2 stalks of celery, thinly sliced
4 carrots, thinly sliced
1 (16-ounce) can whole or chopped tomatoes
2 large tomatoes, peeled and diced
1 (16-ounce) can tomato sauce
2 1/2 to 3 cups pomegranate juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup minced parsley
6 sprigs of fresh rosemary or 1 tablespoon dried

In a large roaster, heat the oil and sauté garlic and onions until transparent, about 5 minutes. Add the celery, carrots, tomatoes, tomato sauce and pomegranate juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper and bring to a boil.
Place the lamb over the vegetables; sprinkle with parsley and rosemary and baste lamb. Bring to a boil and bake at 375 F for two and a half to three hours, or until tender. Remove fat that forms on top and discard. Transfer sauce to a saucepan, bring to a boil and simmer until sauce is thick.
Makes 10 to 12 servings.

Pomegranate and Lime Sorbet

1 cup sugar
2 cups pomegranate juice
2 tablespoons strained fresh lime juice

In a small saucepan combine the sugar and 1 1/2 cups water, bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved, and simmer the syrup for five minutes. Transfer to a large glass measuring cup, cool and chill, covered for two hours.
Remove the syrup from refrigerator and stir in the pomegranate and lime juice.
Freeze in an ice cream freezer according to the manufacturer’s instructions until it is almost frozen. Transfer to ice cream containers and freeze until ready to serve. Serve sorbet in scoops, sprinkled with pomegranate seeds.
Makes about 1 quart.

Serve Up Something Different in 5765


Food is the centerpiece of every Jewish holiday. For Rosh Hashanah especially, our traditional foods are a kind of ritualistic prayer where we ask that the coming year be better than the last. During a time when are lives are weighed and measured, we dip the apple in honey and eat the head of a fish (or broiled cow tongue in certain Sephardic households) to ask for the next year to be sweet and prosperous. Every Rosh Hashanah you probably expect your mom’s famous roast, or the traditional honey cake, but why not make this year about trying new recipes with similar flavors. Sweet is the theme for this season and new cookbooks are varying the holiday fare by borrowing from other culinary cultures and serving up some traditional favorites with a twist. Before you gather around your table this year, check out these latest cookbook offerings and surprise your family and guests with something a little bit different.

It’s so easy to refer time and again to the family recipe book to create your Yom Tov menu, but it’s more exciting to bring other culinary traditions to your holiday table. Dispersed across the globe for centuries, Jews have adopted much of the cuisine of their host countries and incorporated local and available ingredients. Jewish cookbook queen, Joan Nathan, in her book, "Joan Nathan’s Jewish Holiday Cookbook" (Schoken, $29.95), has updated the recipes from her two classic books, 1982’s "The Jewish Holiday Kitchen" and 1997’s "The Jewish Holiday Baker," and invites you to prepare classic dishes from Jewish households all over the globe, making this year’s holiday a cross-cultural feast.

Right before the High Holidays, the bakery is always the last place you want to be shopping. This year, instead of taking a number and waiting in an endless line, opt for the simple pleasure of making your own challah. In her book, Nathan includes an authentic Moroccan family recipe for Pain Petri (challah) to spice up your holiday table.

For the main course, go with Persian Fesenjan, a chicken stew made with walnuts and pomegranates — another fruit traditionally eaten on Rosh Hashanah at the beginning of the meal with all of the other symbolic foods. The many seeds of the pomegranate are a sign of fertility, and serving an entrée that incorporates its juice is an original way to further indulge in the seasonal fruit.

Pain Petri (Moroccan Challah)

Note: You can either make this by hand or using a food processor.

7-8 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/3 cup sugar

3 eggs plus 1 yolk

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

1 tablespoon anise seeds

1 1/2 scant tablespoons (1 1/2 packages) active dry yeast

1 1/2 cups warm water

Place 7 cups of flour in a huge bowl. Make a well in the center and place the sugar, three eggs, 1/3 cup of oil, salt and sesame and anise seeds in the well. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water, then add it to the well.

Using your hands, gradually work in the flour with the ingredients in the well. Add more flour as needed. When a medium-stiff dough is formed, knead on a wooden board for about 20 minutes.

Form the dough into a ball, turn it in a greased bowl to coat the surface and cover with a towel. Let rise in a warm place for 30-40 minutes, or until doubled in size. Punch down and knead once more. Divide the dough into five pieces. Either shape each into a round ball or make a long piece of it and twist it into a spiral with the end of the dough at the high point in the center. Cover and let rise for about 1 hour, until doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Cover a cookie sheet with aluminum foil.

Remove the dough to the cookie sheet. Brush with the remaining egg yolk mixed with the tablespoon of oil and bake for 35-45 minutes.

Persian Fesenjan (Pomegranate-Walnut Chicken Stew)

One 3 1/2-pound chicken, cut up

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cups walnuts, ground

1/3 cup hot water

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 cups pomegranate juice or 1/2 cup pomegranate molasses

1 tablespoon tomato paste

Salt and freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons sugar

Brown the chicken in the oil and remove to drain on a paper towel. Brown the chopped onion in the same oil.

In another pan, brown the walnuts, stirring constantly, without using any shortening. When brown, add the onion. Then slowly add the hot water so that the mixture does not stick. It should not be too liquid — more like a paste. Then add the lemon juice, pomegranate juice, tomato paste, salt and pepper to taste and sugar, stirring with a spoon. When well-mixed, add the chicken.

Bring the mixture just to the point of boiling (not a fast boil). Decrease to a simmer and let cook, covered, until the chicken is very tender, about 45 minutes. If the sauce is not thick enough, remove the chicken and boil the liquid down until the desired thickness is reached, stirring as it cooks.

For a holiday menu rich in fruit and vegetables, a vegetarian cookbook is a great source to draw from on Rosh Hashanah when on the hunt for new recipes. Try a soup with sweet fruits and vegetables to change up the first course. Vegetarian cookbook veteran Nava Atlas, in her new book "The Vegetarian Family Cookbook" (Broadway, $17.95), offers tasty recipes for the die-hard vegetarian or for anyone looking to enrich their diet with more fruits and vegetables. With the plethora of junk food at our fingertips, it is more tempting to reach for potato chips than carrot sticks to satisfy hunger. Inspired by a lack of healthy food choices for adults and children, Atlas compiled a cornucopia of wholesome meals and snacks for even the pickiest eaters. Her Creamy Butternut Squash and Apple Soup is a great starter for the Rosh Hashanah feast, or a fabulous meal by itself when opting for a lighter lunch after days of endless holiday eating.

Creamy Butternut Squash

and Apple Soup

1 large butternut squash

2 tablespoons light olive oil

1 large red onion, chopped

4 cups peeled, diced apple, any cooking variety

4 cups prepared vegetable broth, or 4 cups water with 1 vegetable bouillon cube

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 cups low-fat milk, rice milk, or soy milk

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Halve the squash lengthwise with a sharp knife and scoop out the seeds and fibers. Place cut side up in a shallow baking dish and cover tightly with foil. Or, if you’d like a more roasted flavor, simply brush the squash halves with a little olive oil and leave uncovered. Either way, bake for 45-50 minutes, or until tender. Set aside until cool enough to handle.

Heat the oil in a soup pot. Add the onion and sauté over medium-low heat until golden, eight to 10 minutes.

Add the apples, broth and spices. Bring to a simmer, then cover and simmer gently until the apples are soft, about 10 minutes.

In a food processor, puree the squash with 1/2 cup of the milk until completely smooth. Transfer to a bowl.

Transfer the apple-onion mixture to the food processor and puree until completely smooth. Return to the soup pot and add the squash puree; stir together. Add the remaining milk, using a bit more if the puree is too thick.

Bring the soup to a gentle simmer, then cook over low heat until well heated through, five to 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve at once or let the soup stand off the heat for one to two hours, then heat through as needed before serving.

Serves six.

Honey cake is a great way to end the meal, but Lise Stern’s "How To Keep Kosher" (Morrow, $24.95) offers a great variation you might want to serve after a light pareve or dairy lunch. The sponge honey cake is a tradition not to be forgotten, but Stern livens it up hers with some honey frosting and tops it with caramelized apples. Her creation is one of the many kosher recipes she features in her book which is primarily meant to educate and excite her readers about the fundamentals of kashrut, its origins and modern-day practices.

Honey Layer Cake With

Caramelized Apples

1 large egg

1 cup honey

1 cup plain yogurt, stirred until smooth

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

Oil for the pans

Preheat the oven to 350F. Spray or lightly grease two 8-inch round cake pans.

Combine the egg, honey, yogurt, melted butter and vanilla in a large bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat on medium speed until well blended.

Put the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a sifter. Sift half the flour into the honey mixture. On low speed, blend until fully incorporated. Sift in the remaining flour and blend in until smooth.

Divide the batter into the prepared pans. Bake at 350F for 25-30 minutes, until pale gold in color and a tester inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean.

Cool in the pans for 20 minutes, then remove and cool on racks.

When fully cool, spread Honey Cream Frosting (see recipe below) between the layers and on the top of the cake (not on the sides). To serve, slice into wedges and put on individual plates. Top each slice with a spoonful of Caramelized Apples (see recipe below).

Makes 12 servings.

Honey Cream Frosting

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

2 tablespoons salted butter, at room temperature

Pinch salt

3 tablespoons honey

1 1/2 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar

Cream together the cream cheese, butter and salt until smooth, using an electric mixer or a wooden spoon. Blend in the honey, then the confectioners’ sugar. The frosting should be of an easily spreadable consistency. If it seems too thin, add additional sifted confectioners’ sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time.

Caramelized Apples

2 tablespoons salted butter

3 apples (preferably pink lady or gala), peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch chunks

1/4 cup light brown sugar

Melt the butter over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Add the apples and sauté for two minutes. Sprinkle the brown sugar over the apples. Bring to a simmer, then lower the heat, and simmer over low heat for five to 10 minutes, until the apples are softened but still hold their shape. Serve warm; the compote may be reheated.

If the thought of slicing into a rich cake is a bit unbearable after a long meal, opt instead to prepare a helping of Yetta’s Stewed Summer Fruits. Former actress and neophyte cookbook author Pamela Hensley Vincent compiles treasured family recipes in her new scrapbook cookbook, "The Jewish-Sicilian Cookbook" (Overlook Press, $24.95). So much of our history is in our culinary heritage and Vincent offers a glimpse into the lives of her immediate family and the recipes for which they were famous. Yetta’s — short for Henrietta, Vincent’s maternal grandmother — stewed fruit is a light desert that fits neatly into the sweet holiday theme.

Yetta’s Stewed Summer Fruits

4 to 6 peaches, peeled, pitted and quartered

12 plums, pitted and quartered

12 apricots, pitted and quartered

1 pound fresh cherries, stemmed

Juice of 1 lemon (or 2 limes)

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 cup dark rum

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Put the peaches, plums and apricots into a pot. Add the cherries (whole & un-pitted). Add the water, lemon or lime juice, brown sugar, rum and cinnamon. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover the pot, and simmer for about 40 minutes. Allow to cool. Then pour into a glass jar and store in the fridge.

Yields four to six cups.

Thanksgiving’s Sukkot Roots


Did you know that Thanksgiving is really a Jewish holiday? Although Thanksgiving is not on the Jewish calendar, historians believe that Sukkot may have inspired America’s favorite farewell to fall, often nicknamed "Turkey Day."

"The pilgrims based their customs on the Bible," said Gloria Kaufer Greene, author of the "New Jewish Holiday Cookbook" (Times Books, 1999). "They knew that Sukkot was an autumn harvest festival, and there is evidence that they fashioned the first Thanksgiving after the Jewish custom of celebrating the success of the year’s crops."

Linda Burghardt, author of "Jewish Holiday Traditions" (Citadel Press, 2001), said, "Sukkot is considered a model for Thanksgiving. Both holidays revolve around showing gratitude for a bountiful harvest."

Today Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, but President Franklin Roosevelt didn’t propose this timing until 1939.

It was Abraham Lincoln who made Thanksgiving a national holiday. Roosevelt actually changed Lincoln’s decree that Thanksgiving be observed on the last Thursday in November, which may fall on the fifth Thursday of the month.

The pilgrims’ invited local Indians to the first Thanksgiving during the fall of 1621. Historians speculate that this celebration occurred somewhere between Sept. 21 and Nov. 9, but most likely in early October, around the time of Sukkot.

"Originally, Sukkot entailed a pilgrimage to Jerusalem," said Greene, who believes the two holidays share much in common.

The Puritan Christians who landed on American shores seeking religious freedom were called pilgrims, in deference to their journey from England. Their dream of finding a place where they’d be free to worship as they pleased is a recurrent theme in Jewish history.

After their pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the ancient Israelites lived for a week in temporary huts while giving thanks for a plentiful harvest. Likewise, during their first winter in Massachusetts, the pilgrims dwelled in makeshift huts, wigwams that the Indians helped them build.

While Sukkot remains a seven-day observance, the first Thanksgiving celebration continued for three days, a time frame more similar to the Jewish harvest festival than today’s Thanksgiving dinner, which often begins in late afternoon and ends several hours later.

With its pumpkin pies and cranberry garlands, Thanksgiving mirrors many of Sukkot’s customs and culinary themes.

Burghardt said she is amazed at how many of the same foods are connected to both holidays.

Piping hot casseroles brimming with vegetables and fruit grace the American and Jewish harvest tables, as do pastries that are filled with apples, nuts, pumpkins and squash. Stuffing one food inside another as a metaphor for abundance is the hallmark of Sukkot cuisine.

Yet there’s nothing more opulent than the elaborate bread stuffings found inside Thanksgiving turkeys.

Greene enjoys transforming traditional Thanksgiving recipes into kosher cuisine.

"I like mixing new and old world themes," she said.

One of her favorite recipes is glazed turkey with fruit-nut stuffing. Bursting with so much produce, it’s a one-dish harvest festival. Because the pilgrims and Indians shared roasted corn during the first Thanksgiving, Greene’s double-corn bread is a fitting choice. It is soft and moist, almost like a kugel.

Harvest-time cranberry relish is always a big hit at Greene’s house.

"Several years ago, I invited a family of Russian Jewish immigrants to celebrate their first Thanksgiving. While they adored traditional American foods, they were especially fascinated with the taste and bright color of cranberries."

But since the two holidays are so close in time, is there any reason for American Jews who celebrate Sukkot to pay homage to a second harvest festival six weeks later?

"Participating in Thanksgiving is how we feel American," said Greene, a former food columnist for the Baltimore Jewish Times, who used to submit a Thanksgiving story every year.

She agrees with Burghardt that Thanksgiving is a lovely experience. It’s an easy holiday to include friends and neighbors of other faiths.

"While Thanksgiving is not technically a Jewish holiday, it’s not a Christian one either," Burghardt said. "It’s a great equalizer with a multicultural theme."

Although Burghardt believes that Thanksgiving, with its chocolate turkeys and pilgrims, lacks Sukkot’s depth, Greene feels there’s something spiritual about the whole country partaking in a communal meal, even though menus and customs vary from home to home. At her table, she asks guest to share one thing for which they’re grateful.

"Like Sukkot, at Thanksgiving you’re supposed to invite people to share abundance with your family," Burghardt said. "You can’t serve too much food. Could there be anything more Jewish than that?"

Glazed Turkey With Fruit-Nut Stuffing

Fruit-Nut Stuffing:

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 celery stalks, diced

1/2 cup orange juice

1/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 cups cranberries

12 pitted prunes, coarsely chopped

6 dried apricots, coarsely chopped

1 cup raisins

3 medium apples, cored and diced

1 1/2 cups chopped nuts

1/2 cup finely chopped parsley

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

Salt and pepper to taste

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1. In a medium-sized saucepan sauté the onion and celery in oil over medium-high heat, stirring until tender but not browned. Transfer to a large bowl. Set aside.

2. In the same (unwashed) pan, combine orange juice and sugar, bringing mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir in cranberries and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer cranberries, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes, or until berry skins pop.

3. Mix in prunes, apricots and raisins. Remove from heat. Transfer mixture to bowl containing onion and celery. Cool to room temperature. Add remaining stuffing ingredients and mix well.

Turkey:

1 12-14 pound turkey, completely defrosted in refrigerator

Canola oil

1. Clean turkey well and discard giblets. Rub skin with canola oil.

2. Fill the body and neck cavities of the turkey with stuffing, allowing room for expansion. Tuck the legs under the band of skin or tie legs together with heavy cord. Skewer or sew neck skin closed against the body. Place turkey, breast up, on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Roast in a preheated 325 F oven for about three hours.

Yield: 10 servings

Double Corn Bread

1 cup yellow cornmeal

1 cup all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

1/3 cup canola oil

1 (about 15-ounce) can cream-style corn, including liquid.

(Note: Because cream-style corn does not contain dairy products, it is pareve.)

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Coat an 8-inch square baking pan with no-stick spray.

2. In a medium bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the center, and add eggs, oil and canned corn. Beat wet ingredients with a fork to combine them, then incorporate dry ingredients. Stir only until all ingredients are completely moistened and combined.

3. Spoon mixture into prepared pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Cut into 16 squares and serve directly from the pan.

Harvest-Time Cranberry Relish

1 medium-sized navel orange

1 12-ounce package fresh cranberries, sorted, rinsed and drained

1 medium-sized apple, cored and cut into eighths

1 medium-sized pear, cored and cut into eighths

1/4 cup walnut pieces

1/4 cup dark raisins

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 tablespoons lemon juice

1. Use a sharp knife to remove the colored part of the orange rind. Set aside. Remove and discard the white pith. Cut orange pulp into chunks.

2. Put orange rind and pulp into food processor fitted with the steel blade with the remaining relish ingredients. Pulse the mixture until ingredients are finely chopped but not smoothly pureed.

3. Chill relish covered for several hours, stirring occasionally until the sugar completely dissolves and flavors blend.

Yield: about 3 1/2 cups

From "The New Jewish Holiday Cookbook," by Gloria Kaufer Greene.

A ‘Cheesy’ Holiday


My father never missed a chance to eat cheesecake. He was a furniture salesman whose territory covered the New York metropolitan area, and whenever he called on stores near a bakery, he purchased a cheesecake. While my mother and brother avoided cheese in any form, he knew he could count on me to join him at the kitchen table after dinner to sample his latest discovery.

“I like the consistency of this one,” I said one night, feasting on a slice of creamy cake from a Brooklyn bakery. We felt the best cheesecakes came from places densely populated by Jews and Italians. “But the crust is wimpy,” my father said. “A good crust should be crunchy and thick.”

“The cake could be tarter,” I said. “It’s a bit bland.”

“Yet it’s perfectly moist.”

We had no use for dry cheesecakes. Full-blooded Ashkenazi Jews, we were equal-opportunity cheesecake lovers. We adored the zesty citrus flavor infused in the ricotta cheesecakes that my father purchased in Italian neighborhoods.

“But Rueben’s really makes the best cheesecake,” my father always concluded after we consumed several slices. Since his office was close to the famed Reuben’s delicatessen, he frequently brought home their decadent cakes. Four decades later, I’m still working off the calories.

We didn’t wait for the late-spring celebration of Shavuot to partake in our favorite luxury. Reform Jews, we called Shavuot “the cheesecake holiday,” but knew little else about it.

Shavuot is an important late-spring observance that commemorates the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. It is often celebrated with all-night study and by the eating dairy foods, particularly cheese.

In Psalms 68:16-17, Mount Sinai is called by several names. One of them, mountain of peaks, Bar Gavnunim in Hebrew, shares the same root as gevinah, the word for cheese. Some historians speculate that after receiving the Ten Commandments, the ancient Israelites had been gone from their campsite for so many hours that their milk had soured and was becoming cheese. It’s possible that they fasted while receiving the Ten Commandments and returning hungry, reached for milk, a biblical version of fast food.

Accordingly, Shavuot arose as a dairy holiday. For centuries people have indulged in creamy confections for dessert, and cheesecake became the pastry of choice among Jews from Central and Eastern Europe. In the Old Country, recipes called for curd cheeses, such as pot or cottage cheese, which created disappointing results by today’s super-rich standards.

Cream cheese was the ingredient that turned a dry cake into a touch of heaven. When farmers in upstate New York invented cream cheese to duplicate French Neufchatel cheese, they never expected enterprising Jewish delicatessen owners in Manhattan to buy the product in bulk for baking.

Arnold Reuben Jr., a descendant of immigrants from Germany, claimed that his family developed the first cream-cheese cake recipe. At a time when other bakeries relied on cottage cheese, Reuben’s, then on Broadway and later on Madison Avenue and 58th Street, began baking cheesecakes with Breakstone’s cream cheese. In 1929, Reuben’s cheesecake won a Gold Metal at the World’s Fair.

Unaware of his destiny, a young go-getter named Leo Linderman left school at age 14 to apprentice in a Berlin delicatessen. In 1921, eight years after arriving in America, he opened Lindy’s, a delicatessen that he promoted by creating super-sized sandwiches with flamboyant names.

In the 1930s, this marketing genius developed a cheesecake recipe inspired by Kraft’s Philadelphia Supreme Cheesecake, and began selling a confection that competed with Reuben’s. For decades rumors circulated that Leo Linderman had stolen the Reuben family recipe after luring their German chef into his employ.

Whether the story is true or not, there were differences between the two cakes. Those old enough to remember will tell you that Reuben’s cheesecake was simple and delicious, while Lindy’s cake, as showy as its inventor, was topped with strawberries in a syrupy gel. In addition, Lindy’s crust was doughy, and not to my father’s liking.

Unfortunately, my father passed away by the time I married. But fate shined on me the day I met my husband and fell in love with his mother’s cheesecake. It is delicate and refined with a smooth texture, deep vanilla flavor and crunchy graham cracker crust.

For a change of pace, there’s nothing like a slice of airy ricotta cheesecake with its divine lemon essence. I fashioned this recipe after a cheesecake I enjoyed in Trieste, Italy, visiting my husband’s aunt. Sadly, she passed away before I asked for her recipe. For contrast, I added a gingersnap crust.

It’s impossible to discuss recipes without paying homage to the delicatessens that made New York as famous for cheesecake as for the Statue of Liberty. Since Reuben’s and the original Lindy’s restaurant have closed their doors, people who adored their luscious cakes are still haunted by delicious memories. Let’s face it — it’s been a loss for the Jews.

In the ensuing decades, I’ve tried to conjure up the qualities of the quintessential New York cheesecake: a graham cracker crust, creamy texture, distinct lemon flavor, and firm but light density. It must be taller than the tines of a fork and slightly sweet but with a little kick. The recipe below delivers on all counts. Yet authentic as it is, nothing compares to those evenings when my father indulged me with wondrous cheesecakes from the bakeries of New York.

Classic New York Cheesecake

Crust:

Heavily coat 10-inch springform pan with cooking spray

11/2 cups commercial graham cracker crumbs

5 Tbsp. butter

1 tsp. honey

1/4 cup sugar

Mix ingredients together with hands until well blended and crumbs appear moist. Pour into pan. With hands, spread evenly across the bottom and pat down firmly.

Filling:

5 8-ounce bars cream cheese, at room temperature

2 Tbsp. flour

1 Tbsp. confectioners’ sugar

11/2 cups sugar

grated rind of 1 lemon

1/2 tsp. orange liqueur

3/4 tsp. vanilla

2 egg yolks at room temperature

5 eggs at room temperature

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

  • Place first five ingredients in large mixing bowl and beat on high until they are completely blended.

  • Add vanilla and 2 yolks, and beat again.

  • Add eggs one at a time, beating well.

  • Pour into prepared pan. Batter will fill pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Top will be golden. Lower oven temperature to 200 degrees and bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until top browns, cake feels bouncy to the touch, and a toothpick tests clean. Cool to room temperature. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate.

  • Bring to room temperature before serving.

  • Yield: 16-20 slices

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.

Holiday Heroine


Each year, Jews light Chanukah candles for eight evenings in a row, repeating the story of the Maccabees, the ancient guerrilla warriors who launched surprise attacks on the occupying armies of Syria.

Judah the Maccabee and his four brothers overthrew Syrian tyranny, restored the Temple in Jerusalem, and witnessed a miracle when a one-day supply of olive oil burned for eight days until a new batch was produced.

That miracle and the Maccabees’ daring eclipsed the tale of Judith, the beautiful widow who also met the enemy and triumphed.

During one of Judea’s darkest hours, Holofernes, a general from Asia Minor, laid siege to the town of Bethulia. In no time its water supply dwindled to almost nothing, and the town was close to surrender.

The Book of Judith, an apocryphal work that probably dates to the Second Temple period, relates how a young widow, determined to save her people, purposely beguiled the general, who unwittingly obliged by falling in love with her.

The widow and the general dined together often, until one night when Judith served him salty cheese and plied him with wine to quench his thirst, making him tipsy. Holofernes fell into a stupor. Judith grabbed his sword and cut off his head, rescuing her town and thwarting the Syrians.

Although several versions of Judith’s story circulate, none of them has been confirmed as true. Scholars who’ve studied and debated aspects of the tale for centuries, have generally agreed that it is intended to teach us that the most powerful forces can, with the help of God, be defeated by those who may appear physically weak but are in fact spiritually strong.

In spite of its dubious veracity, Judith’s legend has led to the custom for some Jews of eating cheese and other dairy foods at Chanukah. There is some evidence that partaking in cheese may be as old as Chanukah itself. The salty cheese that Judith served Holofernes may have been in the form of fried cakes.

Recipes for ricotta pancakes in Italy and feta cheese pancakes in Greece may be modern versions of these ancient fried cakes. Today, trendy chefs are reinventing Chanukah pancakes using goat cheese.

Although foods fried in oil have been the heart of Chanukah cuisine for centuries, potato latkes were once considered newcomers. Carried aboard cargo ships from Bolivia and Peru, potatoes first arrived in Europe in the 16th century, precluding the possibility that they played a part in early Chanukah celebrations.

For the most part, Ashkenazic cuisine defers to Sephardic tradition when it comes to serving cheese dishes at Chanukah. Olive oil has always been plentiful in Sephardic countries, but in Eastern Europe oil was once a scarce commodity. Ashkenazim often fried latkes in goose fat shifting their Chanukah celebrations toward meat.

Paying homage to Judith’s courage, in some Sephardic cultures women do not perform work during the first and last days of Chanukah. On the seventh night, women sing, dance, drink wine and eat foods made from cheese.

In deference to the one-day supply of oil that stretched for eight days, the shortening of choice in the recipes below is olive oil.

Although at Chanukah Jews of Eastern European descent clamor for traditional latkes, potato pancakes fried in olive oil complement these menu suggestions. The Festival of Lights offers eight days of opportunities to dedicate a dinner or a brunch to dairy fare. In the spirit of Judith’s bravery, savor cheese dishes, let the wine flow, and toast one of history’s unsung legendary heroines.

Herbed Goat Cheese Spread

  • 1 8-ounce pkg. commercial cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon parsley, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon chives, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, ground or chopped needles
  • dash of white pepper

In a blender or food processor, combine all ingredients until well mixed. Place in an attractive bowl. Serve with crackers or crudités as an hors d’oeuvre; or as an appetizer with pita bread accompanied by a green salad. Yield: 6-8 servings.

Ricotta & Mushroom Matzah Brei

  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • Salt to taste
  • Olive oil for frying
  • 12 crimini (or white) mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 pieces of matzah, broken into one-inch squares
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 9 inch deep-dish pie pan

1. Place eggs, ricotta, milk and salt in a bowl and mix well. Reserve.

2. Pour 3 tablespoons oil into a large skillet and sauté mushrooms and garlic until soft. Remove from pan.

3. Lightly sprinkle matzah with water and sauté in mushroom drippings until crisp, adding oil when needed.

4. Return mushrooms to pan and mix with matzah. Add more oil.

5. Pour egg mixture into pan, spreading evenly. Sauté until brown. Cut into four wedges. Turn wedges and brown.

6. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve immediately.

Yield: 4-6 servings

Swiss Cheese Quiche

  • Crust:
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick sweet butter
  • 1/4 cup ice water

1. Place dry ingredients in food processor. Cut butter into four chunks and mix. With machine running, slowly pour water through feed tube. Mix until ingredients form a ball of dough, approximately 2-3 minutes.

2. Place dough on surface sprinkled with flour. Cover rolling pin with flour, and roll dough into a circle large enough for pie pan. If dough tears, simply pat edges together with fingers.

3. Cover half of dough circle with foil and fold remaining half over the foil. Repeat with a second piece of foil, so dough is folded into quarters. Lift folded dough and place over 25 percent of greased pie pan. Unfold dough so entire pan is covered. Pat into place. Trim excess dough from rim.

Quiche:

  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 large zucchini, sliced thin
  • 3 tablespoon olive oil
  • 6 eggs, beaten
  • 12 ounces Swiss cheese, diced
  • Cream, 1-2 cups
  • Salt & white pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350. In a large saucepan sauté onion and zucchini in olive oil.

2. Place onion mixture, eggs, cheese and salt in a two-quart measuring pitcher. Add cream until contents reach six cups.

3. Pour into prepared dough in pie plate.

4. Bake for 40 minutes or until crust browns, top of quiche turns light brown and custard feels firm. Yield: 8-10 servings