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Hanukkah—The Festival of Lights

Traditional Hanukkah dish latkes – potato pancakes with sour cream. Table decorated with menorah, gift boxes and candles

Hanukkah—The Festival of Lights

My husband is Jewish, so my family celebrates both Jewish and Christian holidays. Hanukkah is one of my favorite Jewish holidays because of its message of hope, and this year it begins on November 28 and is celebrated for eight days, ending on December 6. The Festival of Lights commemorates the defeat of Antiochus of Syria by the Maccabees over 2,000 years ago and celebrates the miracle of the synagogue lamps, which burned for eight days and nights on only one day’s supply of oil.

Our family lights the Menorah every evening during the holiday. We share a quiet dinner, exchange small gifts, such as socks and chocolate coins, and, of course, play the game of Dreidel. One year we gifted each member of our family their own personal menorah, and often everyone around our table lights their own menorah. Our dinner table was ablaze with the lights of hope.

Hanukkah menus vary based on the country of origin of the cook, but the following recipes are ones we traditionally serve. My mother-in-law typically served crepes for dessert; however, the traditional Hanukkah dessert is jelly-filled donuts. Sometimes we serve crepes for dessert and sometimes donuts. Our grandchildren love having jelly-filled donuts for dessert.

Potato Pancakes (Latkes) Serves 4 to 6

We always have latkes on our Hanukkah table. Crispy and substantial, they are one of my favorites. Serve them with applesauce or sour cream. Although latkes are normally made with potatoes, some Eastern European Jews make their latkes with other vegetables, like carrots, pumpkin, zucchini, cauliflower, or spinach. The potato is still my favorite preparation.

1 ½ pounds red potatoes, scrubbed and dried, with skins left on 1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced ½ cup all-purpose flour 2 eggs, beaten 1 teaspoon salt ½ teaspoon white pepper

Using a food processor, shred potatoes. Drain shredded potatoes by squeezing excess moisture out with your hands. In a large bowl, combine potatoes, green onions, flour, eggs, salt, and white pepper and mix thoroughly. Cover the potato mixture with plastic wrap to help retard discoloration.

4 tablespoons olive oil

In a large non-stick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Shape the potato mixture into pancakes that are approximately 2 inches in diameter and ¼-inch thick. Place pancakes in the hot skillet and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until pancakes are golden brown. Using a spatula, turn the pancakes and cook the other side until golden brown. Transfer pancakes to an ovenproof platter and hold in a warm oven until ready to serve. Repeat this process, adding 1 tablespoon olive oil at a time, until all pancakes are cooked.

Cooking tip: You can make your latkes ahead and freeze them. Place the pancakes on a cookie sheet and then into the freezer. Once they are frozen, put them in a zip-lock freezer bag and then back into the freezer. To cook, partially thaw them, place on a cookie sheet, and reheat them in a preheated 450 degrees F oven for about 5 minutes. Shopping for potatoes: Select firm, smooth, clean potatoes that have few eyes and good color. Potatoes should be blemish free. Irregular-shaped potatoes produce more waste when peeling. Do not buy potatoes with wrinkled or wilted skin, sprouts, or cut surfaces. Avoid potatoes with soft, dark spots.

Storing potatoes: Potatoes will keep up to 2 weeks when stored in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place. Prolonged exposure to light will turn potatoes green. Green potatoes contain solanine, which has a bitter flavor and can be toxic if eaten in large quantities. When stored at temperatures below 40 degrees F, potatoes become sweeter.

Pauline’s Homemade Applesauce Makes About 7 Cups

My mother’s recipe for applesauce is the perfect accompaniment for Potato Latkes.

20 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into chunks 2 cups apple cider ½ cup sugar 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

In a large saucepan, combine apples and apple cider. Bring to a boil over a medium-high heat. Reduce to a low heat and simmer uncovered for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Add sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg and stir, blending well. When apples are soft, mash with a potato masher to desired consistency.

Shopping for apples: When buying apples, press the skin gently. Apples should feel firm to the touch. Avoid apples that are soft or mushy or indent easily when their skin is pressed. Never buy apples with dull skin, bruises, or punctures. Apples should have a smooth, clean, shiny skin and possess a color that is consistent with their variety. Color is the best indicator of taste. Overripe apples will be soft and lack a firm crunch.

Storing apples: Apples can be stored safely in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Apples left at room temperature for more than 48 hours will turn soft.

Couscous with a Medley of Vegetables Serves 8

¼ cup olive oil 2 large leeks (white and pale green parts only), minced 4 teaspoons minced garlic 2 ¼ cups canned chicken broth 2 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes 1 large zucchini cut into ½-inch cubes 1 large yellow crookneck squash, cut into ½-inch cubes 1 cup frozen baby lima beans, thawed 1 teaspoon turmeric ½ teaspoon ground ginger Salt to taste Large grind black pepper to taste Cayenne pepper to taste 1 cup plum tomatoes, seeded and diced 1 cup frozen peas, thawed ½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped 1 ½ cups couscous

In a large Dutch oven, heat olive oil over a low heat. Add leeks and garlic, cover, and cook until leeks are tender but not brown, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes. Add chicken broth, butternut squash, zucchini, yellow crookneck squash, lima beans, turmeric, and ginger. Season with salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste. Increase the heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer until vegetables are crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, peas, cilantro, and couscous. Remove the Dutch oven from the heat, cover, and let sit 10 minutes. Fluff couscous with a fork and transfer to a large serving platter.

Cooking tip: Leeks can be sandy. Place cut pieces of leek into a large bowl filled with warm water. Using your fingers, whirl the pieces vigorously to remove any grit. The sand should sink to the bottom. Scoop out the leeks and transfer them to a colander. Rinse and drain thoroughly.

Storing cilantro: To help prolong the life of cilantro, place it in a glass of water, stems down, cover with a plastic bag, secure the glass with a rubber band, and refrigerate. Change the water every 2 days.

Beef Brisket Roasted with Shallots, Tomatoes, and Red Wine Serves 8

My husband’s family traditionally serves beef brisket on Hanukkah. Some families serve roasted turkey or chicken. The following is my favorite preparation for brisket. The sauce is to die for.

1 (4 to 5 pounds) beef brisket 2 tablespoons olive oil 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped 5 teaspoons minced garlic 6 shallots, peeled and sliced in ¼-inch slices 3 cups red wine (Sutter Home® Zinfandel) 1 can (16-ounces) whole peeled tomatoes 1 tablespoon whole peppercorns

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. In a large roasting pan, heat olive oil over a medium heat. Sear brisket until lightly browned on all sides. Remove meat from the Dutch oven and cool for several minutes. In a small bowl, combine rosemary and garlic. Rub the herb mixture over brisket. Place shallots in the bottom of the roasting pan, and place brisket on top of shallots. Pour wine around brisket. Squeeze whole tomatoes into pieces over roasting pan and pour juices around brisket. Sprinkle with peppercorns. Cover the roasting pan with aluminum foil and bake for 3 hours, basting frequently. Remove meat from the pan and slice across the grain.

For the sauce:

Using a large spoon, scrape pan drippings and brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Cool slightly. Place pan drippings, including tomatoes and shallots, in a blender and purée until smooth. If peppercorns are not crushed, strain sauce through a sieve to remove them. Serve sauce on the side in a gravy boat.

Shopping tip: The brisket is a cut of meat that is taken from underneath the first five ribs of the breast. It is normally sold without the bone. It has two cuts. The flat cut has minimal fat and is usually more expensive. The point cut is fattier.

Beverly’s Cheese Blintzes with Fruit and Raspberry Sauce Makes 12, Serves 6

My mother-in-law, Beverly, always makes Blintzes for Hanukkah. A blintz is a filled crepe. She makes a ricotta cheese filling for her blintzes and tops them with fruit and a raspberry sauce. This is the recipe that her mother, Sadie, passed on to her. We either serve Beverly’s Cheese Blintzes or jelly-filled donuts every holiday.

For the crepes:

1 ½ cups water 3 extra-large eggs 1 ½ cups sifted all-purpose flour 1 tablespoon sugar ¾ teaspoon salt Vegetable oil for frying

In a blender, combine water and eggs. Add flour, sugar, and salt, and blend on a low speed until smooth. Stop the blender occasionally to scrape down the sides of the container with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into a medium bowl and let sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour. (You can prepare the batter ahead, cover it, and refrigerate it overnight. Stir it blending well before using.)

Heat a small (6- to 7-inch), heavy nonstick skillet or crepe pan over medium heat until hot enough to sizzle a drop of water. Brush lightly with vegetable oil. Ladle about 3 tablespoons batter into a cup. Working quickly, pour the batter into the hot skillet and quickly tilt the pan to coat and make a thin pancake. Cook crepe until the edges begin to curl and the underside is golden, about 1½ minutes. Loosen edges of crepe with a thin flexible spatula and turn gently. Cook the underside until lightly spotted with color, about 30 seconds. Turn crepe onto a wire rack.

Repeat with remaining batter, stirring it occasionally. As crepes are made, transfer them from the rack to a pie plate. Cover crepes lightly with a piece of foil and keep warm in the oven set at its lowest temperature. Crepes can be cooled, wrapped in foil, and refrigerated for a few days before reheating in a warm oven. Crepes can be frozen for up to 1 month. To freeze, cool, stack them on top of each other, wrap tightly in foil, and then in a freezer bag. Crepes will thaw at room temperature in about 1 hour and can be reheated in the foil in a 350 degrees F oven for 15 minutes without unwrapping.

For the filling:

1 container (15-ounces) ricotta cheese ½ cup confectioners’ sugar ½ teaspoon vanilla extract Pinch cinnamon

In a large bowl, combine ricotta cheese, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon.

To stuff crepe, shape 1/12th cheese filling into a long log and place it just below the center of the crepe. Fold the bottom of crepe over filling. Fold the sides of crepe in and roll the crepe up enclosing filling completely. Repeat process until all crepes are stuffed.

Vegetable oil for frying

Add vegetable oil to a large skillet until it reaches a depth of about 1/8th inch. Heat oil over medium-low heat. Place blintzes seam side down and cook until lightly browned and crisp. Using a spatula, turn blintzes over and cook until firm when pressed. Transfer to a paper towel.

For the berry sauce:

¼ cup water 1 tablespoon cornstarch 1 box (10-ounces) frozen raspberries in sweetened syrup 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier (optional)

In a small saucepan, combine water and cornstarch and stir until cornstarch is dissolved. Add raspberries and syrup and heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture boils and thickens. Remove from the heat and cool.

For the fruit:

2 cups fresh or thawed frozen blackberries 2 cups fresh or thawed frozen blueberries 2 cups fresh or thawed frozen strawberries, hulled and halved

In a medium bowl, combine blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries.

To serve:

Sour cream Mint sprigs for garnish

Place 2 blintzes on a dessert plate. Top with fruit and raspberry sauce and then a dollop of sour cream. Garnish with mint sprigs.

Shopping for blackberries: Select berries that are plump with a blue to purplish-black color and bright, clean appearance. Blackberries should have a firm, but not hard, texture. Always check the bottom of the container for mold. Overripe berries are soft. If the hulls are still attached, this indicates they were picked too early, and they will have a tart flavor.

Shopping for blueberries: Look for deep, purple-blue to blue-black berries with a slight silver frost. Blueberries should be plump and free of moisture. The best indicator of maturity is color. Reddish berries are not ripe and, therefore, not as palatable; but they can still be used in cooking. Avoid green, dull, lifeless, or mushy berries. Always check for mold, especially on the bottom of the container. Shopping for strawberries: Strawberries should be plump with a bright red color. Their caps should be green and look fresh. Avoid fruit with limp or spoiled caps. The size of a strawberry is not an indication of flavor. Small or large strawberries can be sweet and juicy. Do not buy strawberries with white or green splotches or mold. Moisture speeds decay so don’t buy fruit with excess moisture. Always check the quality of the fruit from the bottom of the container as well.

Carol Ann


Carol Ann Kates is the award-winning author of cookbook, Secret Recipes from the Corner Market and Insider Grocery Shopping Secrets. She’s an expert in how to shop, select, and store produce for maximizing home cooking outcomes and minimizing time and money spent. As a former supermarket and deli operator, Carol Ann shares grocery-insider wisdom—the same expertise you used to receive when patronizing a mom-and-pop establishment. Contact her at CarolAnn@CarolAnnKates.com and explore her website, www.CarolAnnKates.com.

Copyright 2021 All Rights Reserved Carol Ann Kates

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