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My Spanish-Venezuelan Chanukah

I never had a latke until I moved to the United States 24 years ago.
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November 24, 2015

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.

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