Defying all laws of physics, so we have been told, the “Chanukah oil” lasted for eight days and nights. Because I don’t personally have any connection to oil menorot or to oil lamps of any kind, it’s hard for me to conceive of the magnitude of this miracle.
What I personally find incredible is the act of historical chutzpah that Chanukah represents. Our Temple had been turned into a pagan sanctuary. Inside its walls, pigs were slaughtered for sacrifice, and a shrine was erected to Zeus. Law prohibited the practice of Judaism.
Morale could have been crushed, but the ancient Jews did not sulk or retreat with their tails between their legs. Under the leadership of Judah Maccabee, they fought back against the legions of King Antiochus and won.
They immediately rededicated the Temple and lit the menorah, making the clear statement that even though their place of worship had been desecrated by enemies, its inherent holiness could not be extinguished.
Chanukah food, on the other hand, is not so miraculous.
As a tribute to the oil, food is generally fried. Does processed vegetable oil really uphold the miracle of ancient Jerusalem? If the Maccabees had been eating food fried in Wesson, they would have been too fat to fight the olive-oiled Greek-Syrians.
Are jelly doughnuts really a memorial to Judah Maccabee? I grew up in a family that opted instead for those hardened blue-frosted dreidel cookies. Sorry, Mom, but shortening and chemical icing do not uphold the holiness of Chanukah either.
The oil used in the Chanukah menorah was untainted olive oil. I propose a sweet Chanukah meal that is dedicated to extra virgin olive oil. If you want to extend the miracle, use olive oil from Israel.
Turn your Chanukah dinner into a latke party. Latkes are often served as a side dish, which, in my opinion, is a mistake. Latkes are the emblem of Chanukah and should be served when they are at their best: right out of the pan! Invite everyone into the kitchen to either participate in making them or simply in eating them. By the time you all get to the dinner table, everyone will be in great spirits!
2 pounds russet potatoes, unpeeled
1 large onion, peeled
2 tablespoons potato starch
1 teaspoon salt, plus additional
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 cup olive oil
Grate potatoes into a large bowl using large holes of grater. Grate onion using small holes of grater. Remove outer layer of leek, and grate the white part only. Add the potato starch, egg, 1 teaspoon salt and pepper, and mix with hands.
Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Add olive oil to cover bottom of skillet, about 1⁄4 cup at a time, and let it get very hot. (Test by dropping in a piece of potato; if its sizzles and browns easily, the oil is ready.)
Pick up a tablespoon-size quantity of potato mixture. Squeeze between your hands to flatten and release the water. Carefully place in oil, and fry until deep golden brown on each side. Remove from oil, place on paper towels. Sprinkle with additional salt, and serve immediately, with applesauce if
Makes about 35 dollar-size latkes.
CHICKEN TAGINE WITH APRICOTS AND PRUNES
Enlivened with cinnamon and other warming spices, this chicken will embrace your heart in a way that will link you directly to the ubiquitous superhero grandma that we all know, even if yours is no longer around: the grandma that loves you unconditionally even when you fail a test or hit your brother; the grandma that has a piece of candy in her purse for you at temple just when you thought you would die of boredom and starvation; the grandma whose joy in life is you. Grandma equals love, and so does this chicken.
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 whole clove or pinch of ground cloves
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1⁄8 teaspoon cumin
1⁄8 teaspoon turmeric
1⁄8 teaspoon ground ginger
5 chicken thighs, bone-in, organic
if possible (see note)
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 cup dried apricots (sulfur-free,
Turkish apricots if possible)
1⁄2 cup pitted prunes
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1⁄2 cup chicken or vegetable broth,
Preheat oven to 400 F.
Place a tagine, Dutch oven or heavy cooking pot (it must be able to go both on the stove and in the oven) over a medium flame, and pour in enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Add spices to olive oil, and let cook for about 1 minute. Add the chicken pieces, skin-side down, and cook for a few minutes on each side until browned. Remove the chicken to a plate.
Add the onion and sauté for about 5 minutes. Return the chicken to the pot, skin-side up, and add the dried fruit. Sprinkle with salt, add in 40 grinds of the pepper mill, and pour in broth. Use a wooden spoon or tongs to cover the chicken with the onions and fruit. Cover the tagine or Dutch oven, and bake in oven for 1 hour.
Remove the tagine from oven, uncover, and place on stovetop over medium heat. Use wooden spoon to smash the fruit so it becomes part of the sauce. (You may want to remove the chicken as you do this, particularly if you used some white meat.) Cook until juices thicken, then return chicken to sauce and keep over low heat or in oven at 250 F until ready to serve.
Makes 3 to 5 servings.
NOTE: If using some white meat instead, cut breasts in half to create smaller pieces. Also add more broth to the pot, about another 1⁄2 cup.
The trick to flavorful couscous is to make it with homemade broth. Don’t be scared. This is quick and easy. Chances are that you are also making something that has onions in it, so save those onion peels — the outer layer and the skins. They have great flavor.
3 cups water
1 onion, peel and outer layers only
1 carrot, cut in half
1 celery stalk, cut in half
1 bay leaf
1 sprig parsley (optional)
2 to 4 chicken necks (optional)
1 cup couscous
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon olive oil
Place water in a medium pot, and set over high heat. Add the vegetables, herbs and chicken, if using. Cover and let boil for 15 minutes or more to create broth.
Place couscous in a baking dish. Sprinkle with salt, and drizzle with olive oil. Add 1 1⁄2 cups of hot broth. Cover with plastic wrap, and let sit 15 minutes. Uncover and fluff with a fork before serving.
Makes 3 to 5 servings.