I love Chanukah for so many reasons, however, my top two reasons are self respect and celebration. What would a Jewish event of this kind be without food? I’ll get to that later, but first I wanted to enlighten my readers with some background information about what ignited the war that led to the victory.
While looking for the best way to explain the situation that led to war, I found some very helpful information at chabad.org.The Jews were being denied their religious customs slowly but surely by the Greeks during the 2nd century BCE. To add insult to injury, the Greeks outlawed Shabbos, the celebration of the New Moon, and Torah study. Being the essence of the Jewish people, they hid in caves and continued to observe all three. The situation became unbearable when the Greek soldiers started assaulting Jewish women. The governor made a decree – unfortunately a common one in ancient cultures – called prima nostra, “first rights.” The governor would kidnap and assault every bride on her wedding night. One particular Jewish woman stood up at her wedding night and told her brothers, “You cannot let this happen to me.” It was a war, first and foremost, for sanctity – the sanctity of the Temple, the sanctity of Torah, and the sanctity of every human being.
The safety and dignity of Jewish women has always been of utmost importance in Judaism. It is the victory of a small, greatly outnumbered and out-armed army of Jews, known as the “Maccabees,” over the mighty Greek army that occupied the Holy Land. A great miracle inspired by passion and self respect.
When the Maccabees had won the war and finally entered the Holy Temple, they couldn’t wait to finally light the seven-branched Menorah (candelabra). Being an important part of the daily service in the Holy Temple, this did not seem possible as there was only a small cruse of pure and undefiled olive oil. This would not last but one day and it would take eight days to produce more oil. The miracle happened and the small amount of oil lasted eight days.
Putting The “Oy” Into Oil
In today’s world, it is hard to imagine not having enough olive oil, you should see what they’ve got over at National Wholesale Liquidators. That is why it is even more important to celebrate Chanukah with eight nights of eight lights. Not only do we use oil to light our Menorahs, we use oil (canola or vegetable oil) in the well known foods prepared and served at Chanukah celebrations around the globe. My two guilty pleasures in this world involve oil infused and eatable food items: Sufganiot (Jelly Donuts) and Potato Latkas.
Jelly donuts, let me count the ways I love you. Imagine a crispy exterior followed by heavenly dough and a mouthful of chocolate, vanilla, or jelly filling. Fried in oil, which ties in perfectly with the miracle of the oil that lasted eight days, these Chanukah treats are incredible. You can get them fresh from a number of the bakeries and supermarkets in Queens, New York. It is not easy to eat just one, but it is the best thing because more than one can leave you in a sugar zone. Don’t worry, you could have one for each night of Chanukah if you love them as much as I do. You can also make Sufganiot at home, it can be done. One of my favorite Jewish kosher Foodie Mamales, Jamie Geller, Chief Foodie Officer and VP of Content and Marketing for Kosher.com, has a recipe for Baked Sufganiot that you must try and I’ve included it right here:
1 (1/4 ounce) package, rapid rise dry yeast
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup warm water
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup 1% milk warmed
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons margarine or butter, cut into 9 pieces
3/ -1 cup strawberry jam
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
- Dissolve the yeast with the 1 Tablespoon of the sugar in 1/4 cup warm water.
- In a standing mixer with a paddle, beat egg yolk, egg, yeast mixture, 1/4 cup of sugar and milk.
- With paddle going, add flour and salt.
- Add margarine one piece at a time. Dough should be sticky but elastic.
- Turn out dough onto floured surface. Knead once or twice. Shape into ball. Place in an oiled bowl, cover and place in a warm area for at least an hour or until dough is doubled.
- Lightly grease 2 baking sheets.
Divide dough in half. With lightly oiled hands, take approximately 2 tablespoons of dough and roll int into ball. Place on greased baking sheet.
- Repeat with remaining dough placing balls 2 inches apart (about 12 balls per baking sheet). Cover with a kitchen or tea towel and let rise 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Bake at 375 degrees F for 10-12 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven and let cool.
- Place jam in a pastry bag fitted with a medium pastry tip or use a small zip lock type of bag fitted with a medium pastry tip. Pastry tips are available at most craft stores.
- Press tip into doughnut and squeeze at least 1 teaspoon of jam into doughnut, or more if desired.
- Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve.
If you don’t have a standing mixer, use a hand mixer for step 2 and beat the egg yolk, egg, yeast mixture, sugar and milk for about 1 minute. Knead the rest of the ingredients together by hand, first flour, then salt and the margarine one piece at a time and proceed with step 5.
It Takes Alatka!
Latka is not just a potato pancake anymore. Move over matzo meal, everything from spelt flour to parsnip can be part of one of the most popular food items consumed during Chanukah. Who knew? The truth is that I had no idea how much could fit into a potato pancake until I was invited by @NiceJewishGirl to a Tweet Up and Eat Up! with Chef Levana Kirschenbaum. If you haven’t heard of Levana Kirschenbaum or her healthy way of preparing kosher food that will leave you wanting more, you should get to know her. You can find her cooking videos on Youtube.com and see some of her cookbooks at levanacooks.com. Imagine being in a small room with an aroma so powerful it sticks to your hair and clothes days afterwards. Yes, this did happen to me but it was well worth every sizzling skillet of oil. Here is a delicious potato latke recipe that Levana Kirschenbaum prepared for us during the Tweet Up. In fact, Mrs. Kirschenbaum was so inspiring that I made latkas for the first time and they were, even my husband commented, delicious. It’s a miracle that I was even able to prepare them and have them ready when my husband came home from work.
Oil for frying
1 cup flour
1 large onion, grated very fine
Salt and pepper to taste
8 large potatoes, grated very thin for smooth texture, or coarser for crunchier texture
Heat the oil in a heavy frying pan (about 1/3″) until very hot. Mix all ingredients except potatoes in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Add potatoes last, and mix thoroughly without squeezing so as not extract moisture. Work very quickly so they do not get time to get discolored. Form medium-small patties and throw in hot oil, or drop by tablespoons. Fry until golden, about 3 minutes on each side. Take out and drain on paper towels. Best served immediately after frying, with apple sauce, sour cream or yogurt. If you must make them in advance, reheat uncovered at 300 degrees for about 15mn, till hot and crisp.
So, it all comes back to self respect, victory, and the little bit of oil that could. May we all learn to fight for our beliefs and appreciate what we have! Happy Chanukah.