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Beyond the love of latkes

by: Ethel Hofman - Last updated: 2003-12-11

Celebrate Chanukah

Celebrate Chanukah

Think Chanukah…and it's latkes. They come in all shapes and varieties. You can find frozen triangles in the supermarket - just heat and eat; then there are home style thick shredded latkes from take out counters, and contemporary chefs in the US  are expanding into a new wave latke repertoire. 

Zucchini , mushrooms,  spinach and ricotta cheese and salmon are but a few ingredients for the savory. Cherry , almonds drenched in maple syrup,  raisins,  apples and sweet potato all contribute to the making of  a sweet Holiday dessert.

But home made potato latkes are the firm  choice of traditionalists who swear there's nothing better than the white  spud, grated, seasoned and fried crisply in oil or better still, goose fat. In the past, geese which had been fattened  during the year, were slaughtered before Chanukah. Though most of the fat was saved for Passover,  some was used to fry the latkes giving a rich and flavourful crust.

Foods fried in oil commemorate the miracle of the cruse of purified oil found when the Temple was re-dedicated, in the second century, BCE. Although there was only enough oil for one day, the menorah flame continued for eight days.  Besides fried foods,  cheese and dairy dishes, usually associated with Shavuot,  are also served at Chanukah. According to legend, Judith, the daughter of  one of the Hasmoneans, planned the defeat of the enemy army. Meeting with the enemy general Holofernes, she fed him an assortment of salty  cheeses. Naturally, he became thirsty  and  she served him so much wine that he became  disoriented. He was beheaded by Judith, leading to a Jewish victory and Judith became a legendary heroine.  Thus the tradition of dairy dishes at Chanukah.

The bunch of recipes which follow feature both oil and dairy products in keeping with the symbolism of the eight day Festival of Lights. For a light supper starter, serve Pumpkin Pineapple Bisque spiked with ginger and orange juice  Raw fennel has a definite anise flavor, but when simmered with parmesan cheese and butter becomes a soft, delicate side dish.  Warn guests that the oil-cured olives contain the pits. Sun dried tomatoes and olives add a Sephardic twist to prepared tortellini  baked into a fast, easy casserole.  Candied Pecan and Chestnut  cake, a year round winner,  may be made ahead and frozen. Thaw for an hour and it's ready to serve at any time especially during the eight days of Chanukah..

Classic Potato Latkes (pareve)
makes 20
4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut in 1-inch pieces
1/4 small onion, cut in 3 pieces
2 eggs
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
vegetable oil for frying
Grate the potatoes and onion on the grater blade of food processor. Transfer to a bowl and add the eggs, baking powder, flour, salt and pepper. Mix well.
Heat about 1/8-inch oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Slip rounded tablespoonfuls of mixture into the skillet; press lightly with back of a spoon to slightly flatten. Cook about 3 - 4  minutes on each side or until nicely browned. Continue frying adding more oil as needed, until batter is used up.
Drain on paper towels. Serve hot with applesauce for a meat meal or sour cream for a dairy meal.
approx. nutrients per latke: calories - 64     protein - 2g     carbohydrates - 6g
fat - 4g     cholesterol - 21mg     sodium - 100mg

In a Hurry - Ricotta Raisin Fritters (dairy)
makes 8  -  3 inch fritters
Prepared biscuit mix makes these sweet lemony fritters almost instant. Leftovers may
   be warmed in the microwave for breakfast or for a brown bag lunch.
1 cup biscuit mix
1 tablespoon sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup milk
3 drops lemon oil or 1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup raisins
oil for frying
In a medium bowl, stir together the biscuit mix and sugar. Make a well in center and add the egg, milk and lemon oil or grated lemon rind.  Stir to combine. Fold in the ricotta cheese and raisins. Pour about 1/8-inch oil into a large non-stick skillet. Heat over medium heat. Drop scant 1/4 cupfuls mixture into hot oil, pressing gently with the back of a spoon. . Cook 3 minutes or until tiny bubbles break on the surface. Turn and cook  2 minutes longer. (may need to cook in two batches). Drain  on paper towels. Serve hot or warm with sour cream or a fruit salsa.
approx. nutrients per fritter: calories - 203    protein - 4g     carbohydrates - 19g
fat - 12g        cholesterol - 37g    sodium - 222mg

Pumpkin Pineapple Bisque (dairy)
serves 4 - 6

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 small onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 (8 ounce) can crushed pineapple, undrained
1 cup canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
1 - 1 1/2 cups pineapple juice

2 tablespoons lemon juice
3/4 cup light cream
1/4 cup toasted almond non-dairy creamer
salt and pepper to taste
toasted almonds to garnish (optional)
In a medium saucepan heat oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, 5-7 minutes. Stir often. Do not brown. Add the ginger, crushed pineapple, pumpkin and 1 cup pineapple juice. Lower heat to simmer. Cover and cook for  5 minutes Stir in the lemon juice and cool slightly. Whisk in the light cream and toasted almond non-dairy creamer. Heat through. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If too thick, add a little more juice.
Garnish with toasted almonds (optional). May be served warm or at room temperature.
approx. nutrients per serving: calories - 169     protein - 1g     carbohydrates - 20g
fat - 9g       cholesterol - 20mg     sodium - 18mg

Braised Sweet Fennel with  Olives (pareve)
serves 4
2 small bulbs fennel
3 tablespoons olive oil
12 - 15 oil-cured black olives
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
1/4 teaspoon white pepper or to taste
1/4 cup vegetable broth
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Trim tough ends from fennel. Cut crosswise into 1/4-inch thick slices. Heat the olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the fennel and olives. Sprinkle with sugar, garlic, salt and pepper. Pour the broth over. Cover. Lower heat to simmer. Cook  until fennel is tender, 20-30 minutes. Stir occasionally. Before serving, stir in the cilantro.
approx. nutrients per serving: calories - 138     protein - 2g     carbohydrates - 9g
fat - 11g     cholesterol - 0mg    sodium - 207mg

Roasted Root Vegetables(pareve)
serves 4 - 6
cleaned peeled baby carrots available in the market along with partial cooking in the microwave minimizes long preparation and cooking time.
1 medium (8 ounce) parsnip, peeled and sliced 1/2-inch thick
12 baby carrots
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut in 1-inch chunks
1 medium Yukon Gold potato, peeled and cut in 1-inch chunks
infused oil such as garlic
lemon pepper seasoning
chopped fresh dill or parsley to garnish(optional)

Preheat oven to 375F Generously brush a baking sheet with infused oil.
Place parsnips, carrots and potatoes in a microwave dish. Toss with 2 tablespoons oil.
Cover and microwave for 4 minutes on High. Vegetables should still be firm. Drain.
Spread the vegetables in one layer on prepared baking sheet. Brush liberally with infused oil and sprinkle with lemon pepper seasoning. Roast in preheated oven for 20-30 minutes or until vegetables are tender and beginning to brown. Sprinkle with chopped dill or parsley (optional). Serve hot.
approx. nutrients per serving: calories - 215    protein - 3g    carbohydrates - 32g
fat - 9g       cholesterol - 0mg     sodium - 46mg
For a more substantial dairy side or supper dish: toss together 1 1/2 cups coarsely grated Gruyere cheese with 1 cup soft brown breadcrumbs and 2 tablespoons infused oil. Sprinkle over roasted vegetables and heat through in preheated 400F oven.

Sephardic Calsone Casserole (dairy)
serves 4 - 6

4 tablespoons butter, divided
1 small onion, diced
8 ounces spinach tortellini, cooked and drained
4 ounces (1 cup) spaghetti, cooked and drained
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, thinly sliced
1/4 cup sliced pitted black olives
salt, white pepper
1 yellow or orange tomato, thinly sliced
3/4 cup shredded Monterey Jack pepper cheese

Preheat oven to 350F. Spray a 2 1/2 quart casserole or baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. In a large saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, 3-4 minutes.   Stir in the cooked tortellini, spaghetti and remaining butter cut in pieces.  Stir over medium high heat to melt butter and slightly brown the tortellini. Fold in the sun-dried tomatoes and olives.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to prepared casserole.  Place tomato, slices overlapping, down center of dish. Sprinkle with the cheese, then lightly with paprika.  Heat through in preheated oven for 20 minutes or until cheese is melted.  Serve hot.
approx. nutrients per serving: calories - 291    protein - 10g     carbohydrates - 26g
fat - 16g       cholesterol - 85mg          sodium - 30mg

Candied Pecan and Chestnut Cake (pareve)
serves 20 - 24
a delicious, winter variation on Jewish apple cake. Serve with coffee or top toasted wedges with heavy cream whipped with a pinch of nutmeg and cinnamon.

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup vegetable oil
5 eggs
3 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup coarsely chopped candied pecans
1 jar or can( 7-8 ounces ) whole chestnuts, coarsely cut up
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 teaspoon ground ginger
confectioners sugar (optional)
Preheat oven to 350F. Spray a 10-inch tube pan with baking non-stick cooking spray with flour.
In large bowl of electric mixer, place the flour, 2 cups sugar, and baking powder. Stir to mix. Make a well in center and add the oil, eggs, vanilla and orange juice. Mix at medium speed for 10 minutes, scraping down the sides occasionally. While batter is mixing, toss together the pecans, chestnuts, cranberries, ginger and sugar.
Pour half the cake batter into the prepared tube pan. 
Scatter about three-quarters of the pecan mixture over. Spread remaining batter over and top with remaining pecan mixture. Bake in preheated oven for 1 1/2 - 2 hours. If browning too quickly cover loosely with aluminum foil. Cool completely before turning out onto a wire rack. To serve: sift confectioners sugar over and cut with a serrated knife.
approx. nutrients per slice: calories - 263    protein - 3g   carbohydrates - 36g
fat - 12g      cholesterol - 44mg    sodium - 77mg