The Lights Fantastic

Brighten holiday tables with this Hanukkah meal
The Lights Fantastic

Hanukkah——the Festival of Lights——is a joyous holiday celebrated for eight days sometime between the end of November and late December. Hanukkah commemorates a miracle——the burning of a small portion of pure olive oil for eight days——that occurred more than 2,000 years ago in the second century BC.

In the land of Judea, now Israel, a group of Jewish men, under the leadership of Judah Maccabee, fought for religious freedom. When the Jewish fighters recaptured the Temple of Jerusalem from their Greek oppressors, they wanted to rededicate the Temple, which had been destroyed and contaminated by the enemy, and to relight the eternal light. But the victors found only a day’s worth of olive oil to burn. Yet tradition says that the small amount of oil burned for 8 days until new oil was readied.

In remembrance of that miracle, Hanukkah celebrants light one candle in a menorah each night for 8 nights, offer blessings of thanksgiving, give or exchange gifts and money (Hanukkah gelt, either real or chocolate) and play games. Hanukkah is also replete with foods fried in or made with oil to remind us of this miracle. These foods are often supplemented with dairy dishes in remembrance of Judith. She saved her town by feeding the enemy’s general salty cheese, causing him to become thirsty. He drank so much wine that he became inebriated and fell asleep. While he slept, Judith decapitated him.

Popular Hanukkah dishes include bimuelos, the rounded fried doughnuts dipped in honey and rolled in cinnamon, enjoyed by Sephardic Jews (Jews from Spain and Portugal); sufganiyot, jelly-filled doughnuts, enjoyed by Israelis; and latkes, or pancakes, usually made with grated potatoes and served with applesauce and sour cream, a dish favored by Ashkenazic Jews (Jews of Russian, Polish and German descent). Using potatoes in latkes is a modern innovation—even though potatoes arrived in Europe in the 1600s—beginning in the 18th century in Europe and the Middle East, by which time the custom of eating foods cooked in oil on Hanukkah had become a long-established tradition.

Sheilah Kaufman, a Washington, DC-based cookbook author and cooking teacher who specializes in Jewish foods—especially kosher and Jewish holiday foods—contributed these recipes. She is also the food editor of the Jewish Women International’s website, www.jwmag.org. Her personal website is www.cookingwithsheilah.com.

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Cheese Pancakes

Cheese Pancakes

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Because these pancakes contain so little flour, they are very light and do not resemble the heavier, customary breakfast pancakes. These should be very lightly browned when done. Serve with jam, applesauce, yogurt or fresh berries.

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Fattoush Salad

Fattoush Salad

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This dish is sometimes referred to as ‘bread salad’ or ‘wet bread,’ and the recipe comes from Sephardic Israeli Cuisine by Sheilah Kaufman.

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Breaded Brie

Breaded Brie

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Chef Carl Stanton of McLean, Virginia, shared a recipe for Breaded Brie, a dish that is fried in oil and incorporates cheese, fitting a Chanukah meal perfectly. Use regular unseasoned breadcrumbs or the Japanese panko crumbs if you would prefer cheese with a crunchier exterior. Either way, this is a

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Sweet Potato Latkes

Sweet Potato Latkes

“Latkes” is a word for pancakes, particularly those served on Chanukah, and is derived from the Greek for “olive oil,” or elaion. Originally, latkes were made from cheese, again focusing on dairy foods fried in oil. But in Eastern Europe, cheese was a luxury item during the winter months. For

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Falafel

Falafel

Canadian cooking teacher Norene Gilletz got this recipe from her husband’s uncle, Uli Zamir, who makes fabulous falafel. He uses the family recipe that was handed down from his father, Shlomo, who sold falafel for 20 years from his now-closed kiosk in Kiryat Tiv’on, Israel. If desired, use 6 to

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Noodle Kugel

Noodle Kugel

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Kugel is a type of baked noodle or vegetable pudding, usually served for holidays and major celebratory meals as an accompaniment. Some believe that the kugel originated in Persia—today’s Iran—and then spread to Eastern Europe. What makes this version so different and so spectacular is the use of very thin,

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Applesauce Dessert

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To use this recipe as a dessert, place the sauce in small bowls, and serve it with a dollop of whipped cream. This apple concoction is also good for breakfast. For the best results, use sugar and water in equal amounts.

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