Chanukah plays second fiddle in the United States. How can the menorah compete with a Christmas tree or a red-suited man manning a reindeer-driven sleigh passing out gifts to everyone who has been nice? And when is the last time you heard any Chanukah songs amid the endless Christmas music blared over shopping mall loud speakers? Don’t get me wrong — I love the holiday season. I love cookie exchanges and bringing in good cheer.
How different is the holiday season in Israel. Many years ago, my brothers, parents and I were fortunate enough to be in the Promise Land during Chanukah. When we touched down at the old Ben-Gurion airport, there was not a Santa Claus in sight. As our driver drove us to our hotel, the highway overpasses were festooned with menorahs, not lighted evergreens. The shopping areas had public lightings of giant menorahs.
Chanukah may not be the most sacred of the Jewish Holidays, but it is one of the more festive holidays. Chanukah is celebrated by Jews all over the world. But as I have learned, the festival foods vary from country to country. In America, Chanukah centers around “latkes,” fried potato pancakes served with apple sauce and sour cream or cinnamon and sugar. Having a Chanukah without latkes is almost unimaginable.
In Israel, the same thought is about “sufganiyot” — freshly fried doughnuts filled with preserves or a cream filling. The Ladinos, Sephardic Jews of Greece, honor Chanukah with fried desserts. One popular holiday dish is “loukoumades,” round crisp fritters drizzled with a honey-scented syrup.
One has often tried to make any of the deep fried treat low fat and low cholesterol. From a foodie point of view, there is no such thing. Splurge one night a year and enjoy the traditions of Chanukah. I do not recommend eating all three in the same evening — you might feel a little sick. Our family Chanukah meal will include the traditional brisket (my family recipe, Seattle Times 2005), latkes, with homemade applesauce and the usual accompaniments. This year we will have sufganiyots, and many of my family members will be cursing at me while they are on the stair master the next day. Of course, the younger kids will love the traditional Chanukah chair, while the older kids will be wishing that the Chanukah chair was done, as their invited friends can hardly wait to sit in the Chanukah chair (December 2011 article).
For a beautiful video about the menorah and Chanukah, please go to my Facebook page (Lisa Chernin Katsman) and view my Chanukah video made by the Seattle Public Television station a few years back.
4 large potatoes
1 large onion
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon salt
Dash of freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Oil for frying
Grate potatoes and onion on a fine grater and squeeze out about half the liquid.
Add remaining ingredients except oil to the potato mixture.
Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Put about two tablespoons of batter for each latke into hot oil and fry until golden brown on both sides, turning once.
Remove from skillet to paper towels to drain excess oil. Serves 4.
Sufganiot “Jelly Doughnuts”
2 packages dry yeast or 1 ounce compressed yeast
1¾ cups milk (hot, not skim or 2%)
2 – 2½ cups flour
¼ cup milk, lukewarm
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup butter or margarine
Jam or jelly, any flavor
Oil for deep-frying
Sugar, powdered or granulated, for coating
Dissolve yeast in lukewarm milk, stir in one cup flour into hot milk, combine and leave in a warm area until bubbly (30-45 minutes).
Mix eggs, sugar and vanilla and add to dough, then add butter to remaining flour.
Turn out onto lightly floured board and knead until smooth.
Cover with towel, place in a warm area, let rise until doubled in size (about 40 minutes).
Roll out to ½-inch thickness on a floured board and cut into rounds with a cookie cutter.
Put one teaspoon of jam between each pair of rounds and press edges together. Cover and let rise for another hour. Drop into hot oil and fry until brown.
Drain well, and dust with powdered sugar or dip both sides in granulated sugar.