All the menorah decorations around me was a hint to find out when Chanukah takes place this year of 2012. I put it off too long and realized this annual Jewish holiday is half over! It started last Saturday December the 8th and before it finishes this Sunday evening December 16th, here is my post, a culinary nod to Chanukah.
A Bit of History
Chanukah, the festival of lights, begins on the eve of the 25th day of the Jewish month Kislev. It lasts for 8 days and is marked by the burning of the candelabra i.e. Menorah. It is an ancient story of triumph over oppression with the faithful Jewish people successfully driving away the ruling Greeks of the time (Seleucids). They then reclaimed Jerusalem and rededicated its Holy temple to the service of God (akin to the ring in the Lord of the Rings trilogy i.e. “my precious“). The highly contested Holy Land saga continues…
Traditional Chanukah foods
Like any typical religious holiday, food plays a prominent role. My research on traditional foods for Chanukah cites the popularity of fried foods as they represent the miracle of the burning oil. When the Jewish people tried to light the Menorah in the reclaimed temple they discovered that there was only a minute amount of uncontaminated olive oil left to do so. This 1-day supply actually lasted 8 days, hence the miracle of the long-burning oil. To commemorate this, a candle is lit each day of Chanukah and fried foods are consumed.
The following 2 foods appeared in every search I did on traditional Chanukah foods. Click the name to get a recipe.
There are many recipes online and many books about traditional Jewish food. The above links are one of several. I figured with a name like ‘My Jewish Learning’ this website must know of which it writes. I encourage you to search out more recipes and pick the one that works best for you.
Tips to Make Fried Foods ‘Healthier’
While I appreciate the tradition of frying foods to commemorate the oil that was burned for 8 days and 8 nights, it’s not the healthiest way to eat. Here are suggestions on how to adapt the above recipes to make them healthier and still pay homage to the tradition from whence it came.
If you are going traditional and you want to fry your doughnuts and pancakes, may I suggest using the following oils: coconut oil, grapeseed oil, ghee (clarified butter i.e. milk solids removed), peanut oil. They are able to withstand high heat without degrading into a contorted mess of glycerol and fatty acids that wreak havoc on your digestive system.
*Or not to fry
Prepare foods according to recipe and bake them oil-free in the oven on a parchment lined baking tray. To eat the potato latkes have a flavour-infused oil to serve on the side. While preparing and baking the latkes let rosemary sprigs and garlic marinate in a small bowl of olive oil. When latkes are ready to eat, simply drizzle them with or dip them in the flavoured oil.
For the doughnuts, use a high-oleic safllower oil in place of the butter in the recipe. This neutral-tasting oil can also withstand oven temperatures suited for baking. But let’s face it, doughnuts taste good when fried so hava jelly-filled doughnut during Chanukah and enjoy life. One won’t hurt.
*Challah is egg bread. No relation to Chanukah that I’m aware of but it makes for a catchy title.