Kislev 25 in the Jewish calendar, [which always falls sometime in December], commemorates a significant event in Jewish history.
On that date, over 20 centuries ago, the Maccabees were victorious against Antiochus of Syria and were able to reclaim the sacred Temple.
When they arrived to clean and rededicate it, they found that there was just a tiny bit of oil left to relight the eternal light – hardly enough to burn for one day.
But the candle burned miraculously for eight days, giving them time to replenish the holy oil. Hanukkah celebrates this miracle with the lighting of the candles on the Menorah for eight days– adding one for each day the drop of oil burned.
To also commemorate this event, the Jews prepare recipes using oil.
For the Ashkenazi Jews of Europe – this means ‘latkes’ [pancakes fried in oil] and for the Sephardim of the Mediterranean it means deep fried delicacies such as ‘sufganyot’ [jelly doughnuts].
The symbolism of the ingredients – according to Jewish food authority Joan Nathan — is that flour recalls the food hastily prepared for the Maccabees before they launched their surprise attack on the Syrians. The oil represents the miracle of the light and the rededication of the Temple. And the inclusion of something dairy – sour cream or cream cheese – recalls the bravery of Judith, who, to save her people from extinction at the hands of the Assyrian general Holofornes, plied him with copious amounts of wine, then cut off his head!
On the evening of the 20th of December of this year – the first candle will be lit and there will be an aroma of oil in the air! The downside of all this frying is that the odor lingers long after the food has been consumed in the kitchen and on the person of the ‘fry-er’!
In many modern recipes latkes are now baked instead of fried. I am not sure my Dad would have approved – as he would stand by the stove and devour the first latkes that came out of the pan – declaring they are BEST when JUST cooked – and the family would have to wait patiently until he was full!
The following Latke recipe uses the [healthier and less labor intensive] baking method – and also includes sweet potatoes.
2 sweet potatoes [or 1 large] grated
1 Yukon Gold potato, grated
4 green onions, finely chopped
4 tablespoons oatmeal
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
Pre heat the oven to 400.
Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl.
Liberally oil a cookie sheet or spray with non stick spray.
Drop ¼ cupfuls of the batter onto the cookie sheet to form patties – and bake for about 20 minutes or until the pancakes and nicely browned.
Drain on kitchen paper or a brown paper bag.
Serve with sour cream.
Note: If you wish to ‘brown‘ the underside of the latkes – turn them over and broil for a couple of minutes.
APPLE LATKES [adapted from Joan Nathan’s Holiday Kitchen] If you would LIKE to fry ….here is a recipe that is reminiscent of an Amercican pancake:
¾ cup Greek yoghurt
¾ cup flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup orange juice
2 apples, peeled and grated
Oil for frying
Beat together the egg and yoghurt.
In another bowl stir together the dry ingredients.
Add the orange juice, grated apple and egg mixture and mix to a batter.
Heat a thin layer of oil in a frying pan on medium heat.
Drop tablespoons of the batter into the oil.
Press the batter down with the back of a spatula to ensure a thin pancake.
Fry for about two minutes on each side or until lightly browned.
Set on kitchen paper or a brown paper bag to drain.
Serve warm – sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar
MY GRANDMOTHER’S RUGELACH with SOUR CREAM PASTRY
2 cups flour
1 cup cold butter cut into chunks
¼ cup confectioner’s sugar
¾ cup sour cream
1 egg yolk
½ cup apricot jam
½ cup chopped dates
½ cup raisins [dark and golden mixed] ½ cup currants
½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1 egg white
¼ cup cinnamon sugar
Process the flour and confectioner’s sugar with the butter until it resembles coarse meal.
Add the sour cream and egg yolk and process until the dough comes together.
Wrap in saran and chill for at least 4 hours.
Combine the dried fruit and nuts together in a large bowl.
Roll out half the pastry on a well floured board into an 8” x 14” rectangle.
Spread with half the jam and sprinkle on half the fruit and nut mixture.
Roll up on the long end to form a 14” log. Press the log down to flatten slightly.
Repeat the process with the rest of the ingredients.
Chill logs for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350.
Whisk topping egg white until frothy.
Cut logs into 1 ½” slices*. Set on a cookie sheet that has been buttered or lined with parchment paper.
Brush with the egg white and sprinkle on the cinnamon sugar.
Bake for about 20 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown and baked through.
Cool and store in an airtight container.
*Note: I sometimes cut the slices thinner since the pastries are rich – Do not worry if they ‘tip over’ when baking. They taste the same…..
About the Author
McKinney resident Kyra Effren is a contributing writer for TownSquareBuzz.com’s “Food” section. She is a retired food stylist and contributing writer for the “Food” section of Dallas Morning News. In 1975, Effren opened Cours de Cuisine Cooking School in Dallas and in 1978, she was awarded The Commanderie des Cordon Bleu in France for her contributions to French cooking. She has edited multiple cookbooks and served as recipe tester for a number of cookbooks including both of the Mansion on Turtle Creek cookbooks by Dean Fearing and baking books by Nick Malgieri.
Kyra welcomes any and all reader comments and suggestions. What would you like to have for dinner?