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Festival of Delights

Photo Courtesy of Ernie Enkler

Unique Additions to Holiday Favorites

My favorite expression about the cuisine of Hanukkah comes from cookbook author Susie Fishbein: “The holiday is about the oil, not the potato.” Food historian Gil Marks echoes this thought in “Encyclopedia of Jewish Food (Wiley, $40): “The Maccabees never saw a potato, much less a potato pancake. When the Spanish first brought the potato to Europe from its native South America, it was considered poisonous, and many centuries passed before it gradually gained acceptance as food.”
As every schoolchild knows, Hanukkah commemorates the victory in 164 B.C.E. of Judah and the Maccabees over the Syrian-Greeks and the rededication of the desecrated Temple. As legend has it, Judah and his followers found only enough oil to last one day, but miraculously the oil lasted for eight days…right?

Alas, there is no evidence for the eight-day oil story in either the First or Second Book of Maccabees, which contain the most detailed accounts of the battles. “Carrying branches of trees and palm fronds and flaming torches so brilliant they lit up Jerusalem, the Maccabees decided to celebrate the eight-day Sukkot holiday, which they had missed that year because the Temple had been defiled,” write Phyllis and Miryam Glazer in “Jewish Festival Cooking” (Harper/Collins, $29.95). “From then on, they instituted a winter holiday to commemorate the rededication of the Temple.” How convenient that this second Sukkot celebration fell at the end of the oil-making season.
By the time the historian Josephus coined the term “Festival of Lights” 250 years after the original event–perhaps referring to those flaming torches of the first celebration, as the Glazers suggest—Hanukkah was a firmly established holiday. Sadly, the rededicated Temple lasted only another 300 years, when it was razed by the Romans in 132 C.E.

Yet potato latkes are an entrenched Hanukkah tradition—at least among Ashkenazim—and omitting them on Hanukkah would be the equivalent of Thanksgiving without the turkey. I’m not suggesting–heaven forbid–that you forego potato latkes this Hanukkah. If your family is like mine, that would cause a mutiny! But today’s recipes ask you to think outside the box this Hanukkah. Might I suggest some unique additions to your usual repertoire?

The fried cigar-shaped delicacy known as Rakakat is just one of 100 classic and contemporary mezze recipes–accompanied by mouth-watering photography–in “Souk: Feasting at the Mezze Table” (Smith Street Books, $35) by Nadia Zerouali and Merijn Tol. Beyond the flatbreads, kebabs, grape leaves, and hummus, you’ll find authentic Middle Eastern dishes, including moutabal (eggplant spread with yogurt, pomegranate and oregano), classic tabbouleh, spiced goat leg, and rice pudding with turmeric, tahini and pine nuts. Serving Rakakat for Hanukkah actually serves double duty: Fried in the requisite oil, they are filled with cheese, which brings up a lesser known Hanukkah tradition. The eating of cheese on Hanukkah commemorates another miracle, this from the Apocrypha, involving Judith, a beautiful and brave widow, who plied the Assyrian general Holofernes with salty cheese and wine, causing him to fall into a drunken stupor, and then she beheaded him with his own sword.
Why celebrate this miracle on Hanukkah? While we don’t know exactly when it occurred, some rabbis placed this event during the Maccabean revolt and held that Judith was a direct descendant of the Hasmonean (Maccabean) dynasty. But why quibble? Any holiday tradition that encourages the eating of cheese is okay with me!

Churros for Hanukkah–why not? “When we were working on ‘Everyday Secret Restaurant Recipes,’” write Leah Schapira and Victoria Dwek in “Best of Kosher” (Artscroll, $37.78), “we asked readers, ‘What recipe would you most want to see included?’ These churros, from T Fusion Steakhouse [a Glatt Kosher fine dining restaurant in Brooklyn, New York] were on the top of the list. Today, churros are even more popular than they were back then. You’re bringing them home from the bakery for Shabbos, and we’ve even seen churro bars popping up at simchas. Now you don’t need to pay per piece to get amazing churros to your table.”

”Best of Kosher” brings you the best of the best iconic recipes (as well as 45 brand new ones) from Artscroll’s many talented cookbook authors, including Susie Fishbein (“Kosher by Design” series), Victoria Dwek (“Passover Made Easy”), Daniella Silver (“The Silver Platter”), Miriam Pascal (“Real Life Kosher Cooking”), Renee Muller (“Our Table)”, Naomi Nachman (“Perfect for Pesach)” and Danielle Renov (“Peas, Love & Carrots”) and many more. Recipes include Matbusha (Moroccan roasted tomato appetizer—“absolutely essential over challah”), Maple Bourbon Brisket from Sina Mizrahi, Susie Fishbein’s Hot Pretzel Challah and Wonton Wrapped Chicken, Babka Straws (Chanie Apfelbaum’s chocolate filled individual puff pastry “straws”)—too many winners to mention!

Photo Courtesy of Esti Waldman


Yield: 40–50

2 sticks (1 cup) margarine

2 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1 1/4 tablespoon kosher salt

2 1/2 cups water

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

5 eggs

Oil, for frying

For rolling

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon

Strawberry-Ginger Coulis

8 ounces frozen strawberries or 1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

1-inch ginger, peeled

1.  In saucepan, combine margarine, sugar, salt and water. Bring to a boil, allowing margarine to melt. Add in flour all at once; mix with a spoon to form a ball of dough. Remove from heat; transfer dough to bowl of electric mixer. On low speed, add eggs, one at a time, until eggs are fully incorporated.

2. Heat oil in deep fryer to 350°F. Add batter to piping bag fitted with a 1M tip. Pipe into hot oil . Using a knife, cut batter about every 4 inches, allowing strip to drop into oil. Repeat, frying in batches of 4 churros until golden, about 4 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, mix cinnamon and sugar in shallow dish. Roll churros in mixture while still hot.
4.  Prepare strawberry- ginger coulis. Combine strawberries, sugar, and water in saucepan. Bring to a boil; lower heat and simmer until strawberries are soft. Purée.
5.  Using a microplane, zest fresh ginger to extract liquid (about 1 teaspoon). Add liquid from ginger to strawberry purée to taste. Serve alongside churros.

Make ahead: you can make batter earlier in the day and keep refrigerated in piping bag, then fry fresh. If serving Friday night, fry earlier in the day and rewarm uncovered. The strawberry-ginger coulis freezes well.

Source: “Best of Kosher”


“A classic on any warm mezze menu and rightly so, with their crispy dough and melting cheese. We see customers go crazy for these bad boys, especially when they’re fresh and golden, straight from the pan. There are also versions with yufka dough (the best known being the Turkish borek), but our favorite is this version, made with crisp filo pastry and a combination of salty haloumi and feta (instead of feta on its own) works very well. For this recipe, seek out a good Mediterranean grocer and find yourself a nice big roll of top-quality filo from the fridge.”

Yield: 10 to 15

Sunflower oil

13 ounces filo pastry

1 small bunch parsley, separated into sprigs

9 ounces haloumi sliced into thin strips

7 ounces feta, crumbled

Oil for frying

Note: Make sure you have a clean damp tea towel and a small bowl of sunflower oil ready to go.

1.  Remove filo from packet, and cover with tea towel. Take 1 sheet of filo and cut it vertically into 2 pieces. Put 1 piece back under the tea towel.
2. Lay the other piece on your work surface with the short end facing you. Place a few sprigs of parsley near end closest to you and fold edge of the filo over parsley. Rub folded pastry with a little sunflower oil. Next, make a line of haloumi and crumbled feta along the end closest to you, then fold in the long edges about 1/2 inch, and roll the whole thing up into a neat cigar shape. Seal end with a little sunflower oil. Repeat with remaining filling and pastry, working fast so pastry doesn’t dry out.
3. Heat oil to 350°F or until a cube of bread dropped into oil turns golden brown in 30 seconds. Fry cigars, in batches, until golden brown. Drain on paper towel and eat immediately.

Source: “Souk” by Nadia Zerouali and Merijn Tol

Jlife Food Editor Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish” (Workman) and “The Perfect Passover Cookbook” (an e-book short from Workman), a columnist and feature writer for the Orange County Register and other publications and can be found on the web at www.cookingjewish.com.


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