Decadent treats are common fare for many holiday celebrations. In Jewish culture, there’s a religious reason behind this — at least during Hanukkah.
Oil plays a vital role in the Hanukkah story, and as such it’s essential to the holiday staples found sizzling on Jewish families’ stove tops this week.
“They’re both fried in lots and lots of oil,” Nechama Tiechtel said of traditional potato latkes and jelly filled doughnuts called sufganiyot. “It’s the one time of year we indulge in the calories.”
Tiechtel, the wife of Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel of Lawrence’s Chabad Center for Jewish Life, explained that when the Jews fought the Syrian Greeks more than 2,000 years ago, the enemy desecrated and extinguished the great menorah in the Jewish temple.
The Jewish people searched and found one last jug of sacred oil, still pure and sealed, and used it to rekindle their menorah. Miraculously, the small amount did not burn out at the end of the day but continued to burn for eight days, until the special process for preparing new oil could be completed.
The eight-day Hanukkah celebration, which began Saturday, represents the triumph of freedom over oppression and light over darkness.
“The miracle is with the oil,” Tiechtel said.
Families spend most evenings together or with other friends and family, lighting one candle on the menorah each night, playing the dreidl and eating.
“Every Hanukkah party, there will be latkes,” Tiechtel said.
Sometimes they’re eaten as a side dish, sometimes the main dish, but they’re always there, she said. Latkes vary from soft to crispy and can be made from a number of fruits or vegetables, depending on the cook’s taste.
Tiechtel makes traditional potato latkes like her grandmother did, which many people like to eat with sour cream or applesauce. She said they’re always a hit with her five children.
“They love latkes,” she said. “I think they wish it was Hanukkah more often.”
Ariela Unz, who moved to Lawrence from Israel five years ago, said it’s more common there to cook a variety of latkes — sweet potato, apple cinnamon and ricotta cheese are among her family’s favorites. Of course, they’re all fried.
“It’s lots of calories, but they are good,” Unz said.
Tiechtel and Unz said they cook Hanukkah doughnuts, too, but don’t usually make them from scratch.
Unz said her substitute for the time-consuming recipe is buying store-bought roll dough, frying it, then using a pastry bag to inject the centers with chocolate, jam or vanilla cream.
While variations are many, the staples of latkes and doughnuts are something everyone seems to enjoy during Hanukkah regardless of their denomination, Tiechtel said.
“That’s one of the beauties of holiday food,” she said. “It ties us all together.”
Servings: 4 to 6
5 large potatoes, peeled
1 large onion
1/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3/4 cup oil for frying
Grate potatoes and onion on the fine side of a grater, or in a food processor; or put in a blender with a little water.
Strain grated potatoes and onion through a colander, pressing out excess water. Add eggs, flour and seasoning. Mix well.
Heat 1/2 cup oil in skillet. Lower flame and place 1 large tablespoonful batter at a time into hot sizzling oil and fry on one side for approximately 5 minutes until golden brown. Turn over and fry on other side 2 to 3 minutes.
Remove from pan and place on paper towels to drain excess oil. Continue with remaining batter until used up, adding more oil when necessary.
Serve with applesauce on the side.
For zucchini or carrot latkes, substitute 5 medium zucchini or 5 medium carrots for potatoes.
(Recipe from “Spice and Spirit: The Complete Kosher Jewish Cookbook”)
Sweet Potato Latkes
2 sweet potatoes
3/4 cup flour
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Oil for frying
Peel sweet potatoes and cut into large chunks. Boil until tender.
Drain water but leave potatoes in pot, then cook over low to medium heat another 3 to 4 minutes, or until potatoes are very soft.
In medium bowl, mash potatoes with remaining ingredients, stirring until all ingredients are well mixed.
Heat oil in skillet, then lower heat to medium. Fry potato mixture by the spoonful, about 2 to 3 minutes per side.
(Recipe from Ariela Unz)
Apple Cinnamon Latkes
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup self-rising flour
1/2 a small container of sour cream (about 1/2 cup)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled and shredded or grated
Oil for frying
Stir together eggs and sugar. Mix in flour, sour cream, vanilla and cinnamon. Add shredded apple and raisins (if using) and mix well.
Heat oil in skillet, then lower heat to medium. Fry spoonfuls of the apple mixture, about 3 to 4 minutes per side.
(Recipe from Ariela Unz)
Ricotta Cheese Latkes
1/2 container ricotta cheese (about 1 cup)
4 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons butter
In a food processor, mix cheese, eggs, flour, sugar, oil and vanilla until smooth. Refrigerate mixture for half an hour.
Melt butter in skillet. Drop batter by tablespoon full into oil, frying about 1 minute per side or until golden.
Serve latkes with fruit sauce or jam.
(Recipe from Ariela Unz)
Sufganiyot — Hanukkah Doughnuts
From Hans Bertele, Gaya Patisserie Shop, Petach Tikvah. Preparing doughnuts at home takes some motivation. So if you decide to go to the trouble make a lot, freeze them and fry some each day.
Servings: 30 regular doughnuts or 50 mini-doughnuts
2 ounces fresh yeast
2/3 cup lukewarm milk
7 cups flour
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of half a lemon
Zest of half an orange
3 tablespoons rum or brandy
6 ounces soft butter
Sunflower oil (burns slowly and has no aftertaste), for deep-frying
1 cup strawberry jam
- Dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup milk.
- Put the flour, sugar, salt, eggs, vanilla extract, citrus zest, rum or brandy, and the remaining milk in a mixer bowl fitted with a kneading hook. Add the dissolved yeast and knead for 5 minutes.
- Add the butter gradually and continue kneading for 10 minutes at medium speed, until the dough is smooth.
- Sprinkle some flour over the dough in the bowl, cover with a moist towel and allow to rest for 20-30 minutes.
- Knead the dough for another minute, form a smooth ball (it should weigh about 4 pounds at this point), and place on a work surface, preferably wood, sprinkled with flour. Cover with a moist towel and allow to rise for 15-20 minutes.
- Divide the dough into 30 doughnuts (or 50 mini-doughnuts) and arrange, evenly spaced, on greased baking pans sprinkled with flour.
- Transfer the pans to a warm oven preheated to about 110 F. Place a saucepan with boiling water at the bottom of the oven to provide the dough with the necessary moisture. Allow the doughnuts to rise in the warm oven until they double in size.
- Heat the oil for deep-frying to 375 F.
- Make sure there is no excess flour on the doughnuts, which can burn and cloud the oil, and fry the doughnuts in batches. Place them in the hot oil with the bottom (the side on which the doughnut was resting) facing up. The dome (top side) will develop a crust while the bottom will swell up slightly and the doughnut will take on a perfect round shape. Fry for about 2 minutes on each side, until golden-brown. Taste the first doughnut to be sure it has been fried properly; if it’s brown on the outside and still moist and sticky on the inside, the oil is too hot.
- Arrange the doughnuts on a rack to allow the excess oil to drip.
- To fill the doughnuts: Use a special syringe or a pastry bag with a long nozzle. Puncture the doughnut in the center, and press to release the filling. If the jam is too thick mix in a little water. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar and serve.
Making ahead: After forming the doughnuts (step 6), place them on a tray lined with baking paper, wrap the tray in a plastic bag and freeze. Defrost for 8 hours in the refrigerator and continue according to the recipe (from step 7).
(Recipe from Janna Gur’s “The Book of New Israeli Food”)