We all have lots to learn about various food cultures. Many thanks to Mara Kahn for helping us with Hanukkah food traditions and recipes, and to Golan Heights Winery for some wine pairing suggestions.
The Jewish celebration of Hanukkah commemorates the victory of the rebel Maccabees against the Seleucid Empire in 165 BCE, when they recaptured the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
The belief is that the Maccabees had only enough holy oil to keep the Temple’s sacred flame burning for a single day. In a miracle, their faith kept the flame burning for eight days by which time they could obtain more oil. The flame never burned out.
To recall this miracle each year, Jews celebrate Hanukkah for eight nights by gathering together to light candles on an eight-branch Menorah and indulge in foods cooked in oil. This year the first night of Hanukkah is Dec. 12.
This decidedly decadent tradition of eating fried foods makes this holiday special. Jelly donuts, potato pancakes – called latkes – and fried chicken strips known as schnitzel are just a few treats.
In celebration, children play a gambling game with a top called a dreidel. Winning spins are rewarded with “gelt,” delicious gold foil-wrapped chocolate coins. Modest gifts may be exchanged each night.
It’s a joyous holiday, especially for children, with eight nights of celebration, gifts of chocolate coins, permission to gamble and wonderfully tasty fried treats. Latkes are the Hanukkah culinary staple. Traditionally latkes are made from coarsely grated Russet potatoes.
As culinary horizons have expanded, today’s latkes may be made with sweet potatoes, zucchini, beets or other starchy root vegetables. The cooking technique common to all latke recipes is that they must be fried in oil. For the sake of one’s waistline, it’s good Hanukkah only comes once a year!
Traditional Potato Latkes
Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish
1 pound Russet potatoes - coarsely grated & squeezed in a kitchen towel to remove excess moisture.
1 medium white onion - finely chopped
1 large egg - beaten well
2 tablespoons fine cracker crumbs (meal) or Matzoh meal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2-3/4 cup vegetable oil
1. Combine all ingredients except oil in a large bowl. Mix well. If not frying immediately, cover tightly with plastic wrap pressing the plastic tightly against the mixture and refrigerate. Use as soon as possible as the mixture can turn brown.
2. Heat 1/2 to 3/4 cup vegetable oil in your largest heavy frying pan. Working in batches, scoop about 1/4 cup of the mixture into the hot oil for each latke and fry until crisp. Drain on paper towels. Add additional oil as needed.
3. Keep cooked latkes warm in a low oven while you fry each batch.
4. Latkes are best served hot with both sour cream and applesauce on the side.
5. Cooked latkes freeze well.
Wine pairing advice from Golan Heights Winery:
Pour Gewurztraminer with latkes and sour cream; sauvignon blanc with latkes and apple sauce; viognier with sweet potato latkes; chardonnay with zucchini latkes, and a moscato with jelly donuts.
Mara Kahn is a real estate agent and co-owner of the 8th Street East Culinary Outlet.