No, I’ve not forgotten Hanukah. To tell the truth, daughter and I have been called back to work. Our local theater company, Miami New Drama, is staging a groundbreaking production that places the actors into vacant storefronts in our iconic pedestrian mall. The socially distanced audience watches from the sidewalk with earphones. It’s been a sell-out for the past 3 weekends, 3 more to go (MiamiNewDrama.org).
In the meantime, we have two more nights of Hanukkah to celebrate, light the candles, and eat yummy, often fried, food. One of the central beliefs of this winter holiday is the miracle of the oil – when the Jews reached their desecrated Temple long ago, only enough oil for one night was found. Miraculously, it lasted for eight nights. And so, Hanukah lasts eight nights
We live in this time of seclusion with the miracle of zoom which transmits so much information from all parts of the world. I enjoyed watching several chefs who introduced their special Hanukah recipes. Israel’s Chef Nir Zook was beamed into my home thanks to the Israeli Consulate of the Pacific Northwest, the East Bay Jewish Film Festival, and the Contra Costa JCC. This chef cooked basic latkes, following the instructions I’ve always used (see below), along with several innovative toppings like roasted eggplant and a cocktail inspired by the sofganiya (holiday jelly donuts).
Cookbook author Leah Koenig presented an on-line discussion about the variety of fried (cooked in the miraculous oil) sweets enjoyed by Jews dispersed around the world. She introduced Atayef (Middle East), Gulab jamun (India), Ijeh b’lahmeh (Syria), Keftes de prasa (Sephardim), Sfenj (North Africa), Sufganiyot (originally Polish). The Italians get the prize for the greatest variety of Hanukah specialties including Kaese Latkes (cheese latkes), Fritelle di Zucca, Fritelle Riso, Pollo fritto (www.tabletmag.com/sections/food.articles/world-of-hanukkah-fritters).
Because of the work assignment, our family started celebrating a night early. Of course, I returned to my regular latkes (potato pancakes) recipe learned from my mother. The main course was chicken schnitzel, acquired earlier this season of seclusion thanks to zoom (see July 20 post).
Latkes. For a small batch, I used 3 medium sized baking potatoes (peeled and shredded; I use the food processor), one medium sized onion (shredded with the potatoes),* one egg (beaten), some salt and pepper, and the proverbial handful (maybe ¼ cup) of matzah meal. After shredding the potatoes and onions, make sure the squeeze them thoroughly to remove any liquid. Add egg, salt, and pepper and mix thoroughly. Again, squeeze out any liquid. Heat some oil, maybe about 6 tablespoons til hot, and not smoking (whatever that means!). Drop a potato shred in the oil; if it sizzles, it’s hot enough. Form small patties in your hands and gently place into the oil. When browned nicely, turn to brown the other side. Drain in a dish or pan lined with paper towels.
*The onion is supposed to slow down the browning/oxidization of the potatoes and add flavor!
Latke toppings, in our house. Constant Companion enjoys apple sauce. I ran across a recipe for an apple/pear sauce. With some very ripe pears in the fridge, that was this year’s choice. I had 3 pears and maybe 5 or 6 nice sized apples. Simply quarter, peel, and seed the fruit (apples and pears). Put into a saucepan with about 1-2 inches of water.* Bring to a boil, then simmer til the fruit is soft. Blend til smooth. (I apologize that I don’t remember my source for this recipe.) I have come to enjoy creme fraiche instead of sour cream on my latkes.
*Note 1, I add no sugar, the fruit is usually sweet enough and we find no need for additional sweetening.
*Note 2, when I have apples that are ripening on the kitchen counter, I frequently cook them, as above. I leave them chunky as a compote. Constant Companion enjoys this as a snack.
Our holiday dinner was very brown, with a side dish of roasted butternut and delicata squash, Peel the butternut squash. Slice both into thin slices. Toss with oil, salt, and pepper. Roast for 30-45 minutes in a 350 degree Fahrenheit over. The butternut squash was sweet enough to be desert.
So many recipes for latkes using almost every vegetable conceivable are circulating around the internet and cookbooks. I tend to stay away from these new concoctions, preferring to remain with the traditional. This stated, my second go-round with latkes was different. I had a huge sweet potato and a new item for me – murasaki sweet potatoes, a purple skinned Japanese sweet potato.
Following the instructions above – peel, shred, mix with egg, matzah meal, salt, pepper, and fry til crispy – and voila, latkes. Again, everyone enjoyed. I preferred the flavor of the murasaki potatoes.
The main course for that dinner was a brisket (not a specialty for me) cooked with silan (date honey/syrup). It was another hit. Easy to make if you start early. Here’s the recipe from the internet – https://www.kosher.com/recipe/brisket-with-silan-and-orange-7716. The resulting pan drippings are delightfully delicious.
The only regret is sadly shared with so many others – the inability to share the holiday with friends and families, in-person. My holiday wish that we will be able to next year.