It’s one of my favorite times of the year…and our first Chanukah in Israel. Chanukah is the Festival of Lights and the Festival of the Rededication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem. The Greeks (after Alexander) had conquered much of the known world, and by 140 BCE they had moved into Israel setting up gymnasia in Jerusalem (these were centers of Greek learning as well as body building), outlawing Judaism including the celebration of the Shabbat, circumcision, Torah learning and basically all things Jewish. A family of religious Jews, under Mattityahu and his son, Judah Maccabi decided to stand up to the Greeks and the ruler, Antiochus Epiphanes, head on. Maccabi means hammer, but is also an acronym for the Hebrew “Me Kamokha Ba’alim Adonai,” or part of the great daily prayer, “Who is like G-d?” The valiant Maccabi band from Modi’in, outside Jerusalem, fought several battles, mostly waging a guerrilla style warfare, hammering hard against the mighty Greek army. They won, routing the Greeks, but on entering the Holy City, found the Temple completely desecrated. The holy objects had been looted or destroyed, and the place was a total wreck down to unkosher pigs roaming through the Temple Mount. Upon the completion of the cleanup, one small cruze of pure oil, holy to the Lord was found to light the seven branched temple menorah – only enough to last for one day. Miraculously, the oil lasted eight full days and nights, long enough for fresh olive oil to be made, and thus the Temple was rededicated, and we celebrate this festival beginning on the 25th of the Hebrew month of Kislev.
Two weeks ago we went to Yerushalayim, in part for me to collect more awesome Chanukah decorations. This should have been my first clue that all was not the same in the Holy Land as in the States. Back in California, all the stores sell great Chanukah items from banners and dishtowels to tablecloths; ugly Chanukah sweaters for those amazing and fun Chanukah parties; shiny aluminum Chanukah trees and designer ornaments shaped like dreidels, stars of David, and Chanukkias (the nine-branched menorah). We have Chanukah board games, cake pans, dishes with Jewish symbols… all total fun. In Jerusalem, I did find the dreidels – here s’vivonim, a spinning top with the Hebrew letters Nun, Gimel, Hey, and Po (a great miracle happened here) unlike the Diaspora dreidels which read “a great miracle happened there.” They are used in a children’s game (and in the US, pretty fun gambling games). There was also a wide selection of Chanukkias – I got a beautiful new Shabby Chic outdoor Chaukkiah – but that was about it for Chanukah kitsch.
I should have known something was not quite right when the neighbors came by to ask what I was doing. We were decorating the outside of our home with Chanukah decorations… Banners, silver and blue balls in cloches on the porch, hanging dreidels (huge) from the porch lights, six pointed star of David snowflakes… seems the Israelis just don’t decorate the way we Californians did. Crazy Americans. But they loved it – and hadn’t even seen the inside of the house yet. I was sure they would plotz, but so far, everyone is loving our Chanukah spirit. I love decorating the home for the different holidays. It’s fun, easy, and adds a sense of spirit, tradition, and festivity to the family.
Max was on leave for the weekend, and he brought a couple Mechinah friends with him, so we celebrated First Day of Khag 9holiday) with a hearty brunch before they went back. It is customary to eat fried food (latkes, or levivot, pancakes), so I served sweet potato pancakes. Recipe courtesy of Orna v’Ella Restaurant in Tel Aviv. These are MUST TRY!!! Absolutely delicious!
Sweet Potato Pancakes and Sauce (Dairy)
(Makes 30 latkes)
1 ¼ kg (2.5 pounds) sweet potato (750g after roasting)
2 tbsp soy sauce
¾ cup (100g) flour
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
Butter for frying
For chive sauce:
¾ cup chopped chive stalks
250g (a pint) sour cream
1/3 cup (80ml) mayonnaise
Freshly ground salt and pepper
Preparing the latkes:
Roast sweet potatoes in a 425* oven until they are completely soft.Let cool. Peel potatoes, then transfer to a bowl and add the soy sauce. Knead using hands. Add flour, sugar, salt and pepper, and continue gently mixing by hand until a dough is formed (remove hard or black pieces along the way). The dough will be soft, united and slightly sticky. If it is runny, add a small amount of flour. Refrain from excessive mixing, which would lead to the dough becoming too sticky.
Preparing the sauce:
Combine all sauce ingredients, and add salt and pepper to taste. If mayonnaise is not homemade, it is preferable to add a touch of mustard and lemon to the sauce.
On a medium flame, heat butter in a Teflon pan. There should be enough butter to properly grease the pan. Using a pastry bag, tablespoon or wet hands, place latkes in the pan. It may take a few latkes until you become familiar with how to work with this unique, sticky dough. Fry the latkes on both sides until they are golden, but not burnt, ensuring they are firm enough to retrieve with a spatula. Rest latkes on paper towel and serve with the sauce on the side.
If latkes are not eaten immediately, cover them with cling wrap and store in the fridge for a maximum of two days. Reheat in a preheated oven at medium heat (180 degrees Celsius), being careful not to dry them out. Do not reheat latkes in a microwave.
The second day, I made Chanukah shortbread cookies using my cookie mold (from the States). After they were done, I packaged them up and delivered packets to soldiers at bus stops and the mall. They were all pretty surprised and quite grateful, but it was I who enjoyed the mitzvah more than they.
On the third day of Chanukah, I hosted a dinner party for a few of our American friends here in Karmi’el. Once again, the table was beautiful. I used more formal blue and white china (my holiday meat dishes). I lit candles in silver votives throughout the house and had my favorite Chanukah music playing in the background (Eran Barron Cohen’s CD is the best, hands down! It’s Sasha’s younger brother, a cool indie musician. Also, a mix CD of Moshav, Idan Rachel, and several other artists.)
The menu and recipes follow:
- Homemade olive tapenade
- White Bean Spread
- Roasted Red Pepper Tapenade on Polenta Squares
- Assorted Crackers
White Bean Spread
- 1 can cannelloni beans or 1 cup cooked white beans
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 tsp minced, fresh sage leaves
- fresh sea salt, to taste
Mash up the cooked or canned beans. Add crushed garlic cloves, salt, and minced sage. Mix together well and serve in a lovely bowl with an herb garnish. That easy. Fabulous!!!
Polenta Squares with Roasted Pepper Tapenade
- 1 each, red, yellow, and orange bell pepper
- 5 carmelized garlic cloves
- 1 tsp basil pesto
- sea salt and pepper, to taste
Roast the whole garlic and the peppers on a foil lined baking sheet at 425*F (200*C). Turn the peppers every2-4 minutes. The skin will blister and burn a bit. After peppers are well blistered (10-15 minutes) remove all from oven and let cool. The peppers will deflate, but you can then easily peel off and discard the skin and seeds. Place peeled peppers and garlic cloves in bowl or food processor and pulse until a chunky puree forms (30- 45 seconds). Add pesto and salt and pepper, mixing well.
I could not find the premade polenta rolls here, so I decided to make my own. It’s called mamaliga in Yiddish, and is surprisingly easy to make.
- 1 cup polenta (yellow corn grits)
- 2 cups well-salted water
- 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
- 4 drops Wright’s Liquid Smoke (unavailable in Israel)
Bring salted water to a rolling boil. As soon as water boils, remove from heat. Stir in polenta 1/4 cup at a time, continually stirring to avoid lumps. Add in smoked paprika and liquid smoke, if available. Place back on medium heat on the stove, continually stirring until very thick. Pour into a well-oiled baking pan and place in fridge 15 minutes. Remove and cut into small squares. This can be done well in advance. Before plating, heat a grill pan that has been brushed with olive oil and grill the slices on the stove until grill marks are visible on each side. Remove to plate. Let cool. Top with tapenade and a fresh basil leaf.
- 1 shot blueberry vodka
- dash of Limoncello
- Lemon twist
- Bluberries (we don’t have blueberries in Israel, so I soaked dried blueberries in the vodka to reconstitute)
These are great blue-ish cocktails and really tasty, too. It was my first try at creating a new Chanukah drink here in Israel. Everyone loved them, so it was a successful endeavor!
Just take a cocktail shaker (another item I gave away!!! so I used a Mason Jar, James Bond style: “shaken, not stirred,” as my friend Shoshanna put it…) filled with ice. Add the liquid, shake and pour. Plop in a few blueberries. Add a twisted lemon peel garnish.
- Orange Soup (Parve)
- French Brisket
- Braised Fennel, Leeks, & Apples
- Zucchini Thyme Latkes
- Not Your Momma’s Potato Latkes
- Secret Surprise Applesauce
- 2 roasted large sweet potatoes or red garnet yams
- 2 cups pumpkin puree (here they sell big, raw chunks of dlaat that I roast by myself, so in Israel 1 large piece, roasted
- 3 large carrots, peeled cut, and roasted
- 2 large green apples, peeled & sliced
- 1 large brown onion, peeled and chopped
- 1 can coconut milk or cream (I used 18% cream)
- 2-3 cups water
- 2 teaspoons yellow curry powder
- 1 teaspoon garam masala spice blend
- 1 teaspoon baharat spice blend (1/4 tsp ground cloves, 1/4 tsp cinnamon,1/4 tsp white pepper, 1/4 tsp allspice)
Roast the veggies at 425*F until tender. I wrap them in foil first. Peel and mash in large bowl. In stockpot, brown the apple and onion pieces until soft. Add 2 cups water and the roasted, mashed veggies. Mix well. Stir in the spices and can of coconut milk. Let simmer on medium low heat for a few hours, stirring occasionally. As it cooks down, you can add more water if it seems too thick. Add sea salt to taste. Serve with freshly grated nutmeg on top.
I decided to try something new this year. I always serve my mom’s recipe of a delicious brisket with onions, but in light of the recent terror attacks in France, came up with a “French” brisket. It was melt-in-your-mouth sumptuousness!!!
French Brisket (serves 6-8 with leftovers!)
- 2.5kg (5lb) brisket (cut #10 in Israel)
- 2 large brown onions, peeled and sliced
- 2 Tbsp Coleman’s dry mustard
- Kosher Worcestershire Sauce, few drops
- 2 baskets white, whole mushrooms
- 1 cup Chardonnay (or non-alcoholic white wine – Knudsen’s makes a good one)
- 1/3 cup dijon mustrd
- handful fresh whole rosemary sprigs
- handful, fresh whole thyme sprigs
- sea salt & pepper
Preheat oven to 425*(200* C). Generously salt and pepper the roast. Rub well with dry mustard powder on both sides. Sprinkle with few drops of Worcestershire Sauce. Place, fat side up in large pot (with lid). Roast, uncovered, fat side up at 425* for 8-10 minutes per side, turning once when well browned on top.Remove from oven.Turn oven down to 300* F (150*C) In small bowl, mix together wine and dijon mustard. Pour liquid over browned roast. Add sliced onions, sliced mushrooms, thyme and rosemary sprigs. Place lid on top, and put back in oven to slow cook for about 4 hours. Serve with reserved juice on side, shrooms and onions on top. Garnish with remaining fresh thyme and rosemary sprigs. This is so tender it just falls apart and melts in your mouth!
Braised Fennel, Leeks & Apples
I created this version of the Ottolenghi classic. Just love it! It’s very easy, quite different, and a nice side dish with the meat.
- 2 large, fresh fennel bulbs, washed and thinly sliced on the diagonal
- 1 large white leek, outer leaves peeled, thinly sliced white part only
- 2 green/yellow cooking apples, peeled & sliced
- 1 tsp caraway or fennel seeds
- 2 Tbsp canola oil
- sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 3 Tbsp chopped fresh fennel or dill fronds
Cook the caraway seeds in a medium hot pan for about a minute to release fragrance. Add canola oil and sliced fennel, apples, & leeks. Braise until nice and soft – translucent. Add the sugar and salt and pepper and 2 Tbsp of fresh fennel or dill fronds. Stir as it cooks, 1 more minute. Remove to serving bowl and garnish with the remaining Tbsp fresh dill. Serve immediately. (There is absolutely no licorice or anise flavor in this once cooked, for those afraid of fennel…like me!!)
Zucchini Thyme Latkes (Fritters)
- 4 large zucchinis
- 1 beaten egg
- 3 Tbsp fresh thyme (1 tsp dried)
- 2 tsp baking powder
- grated lemon zest
- pepper to taste
- 1/3 cup flour
- canola oil
Grate zucchinis on large shred. Squeeze out all liquid. I put the shreds in a clean kitchen towel and squeeze hard. Return squash to large bowl. Add thyme, pepper, and some lemon zest, and mix well. Add in beaten egg, and mix again. Stir in flour and baking powder (DO NOT ADD SALT!!!!! It will cause the zucchini to turn to mush). Mix well. Heat skillet with 2 Tbsp canola oil. When it begins to sizzle, add the zucchini by the spoonful, patting down a bit to flatten out. Fry them until crisp and well browned, flipping them over once or twice. Do not let them burn. Remove to a paper towel lined platter. Now sprinkle with fresh sea salt. Serve at once. (Keeping them warm in the oven will just cause the pancakes to get limp and soggy. Don’t do it!)
Not-Your-Momma’s Potato Latkes
I developed a snappier twist on the old fashioned plain latkes over the years. Last year I won two LA Latke Cook-Offs, so here goes:
- white potatoes, peeled, and shredded in large bowl
- 3 Tbsp dried onion flakes
- 2 tsp dried chives
- 2 tsp dried parsley
- 2 Tbsp dried garlic (not powdered) pieces
- 1 1/2 tsp freshly cracked pepper
- 1 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 2 Tbsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 2 eggs, well beaten
- Shmaltz (rendered duck, goose or chicken fat oil) or canola oil, if Shmaltz not available (I used to buy mine at Whole Foods in America – just ask for rendered duck fat in a small tub)
Shred the peeled potatoes. Remove in stages to a large kitchen towel and roll up. Totally wring out all the liquid until completely dry. This is very important!!!! You can do in smaller batches. Place dried potato shreds into large bowl. Add dried herbs and spices, mixing well. Add eggs. Mix. Add baking powder and baking soda. Mix thoroughly. Heat 3 Tbsp of the Schmaltz (or canola oil) in large skillet until hot, but not smoking. Drop latke mix by large spoonfuls into pan, tamping down a bit to flatten a little. Let fry on each side until golden brown, adding more oil as needed. Serve sizzling hot with my Secret Special Applesauce!!! To rave about….
Secret Special (and Spiritual) Applesauce
I can jars and jars of this the week before Chanukah. What makes it so special and spiritual? A serendipitous accident I had last year!!! The Jewish holidays of Chanukah and Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles) are closely related, and this recipe links the two together. Sukkot, another 8 day holiday, is a special Pilgrimage and Thanksgiving Harvest festival. The Jewish people live in booths for 8 days and wave the lulav branches and a curious citron fruit called an etrog (see Sukkot post). Because etrogim are sooooo expensive in the US – they can cost upwards of $50-100 – I saved mine in the fruit bin of the fridge last year. Don’t ask why. A couple weeks before Chanukah, I threw in my apples. When I took them out a week later, they had an incredibly beautiful and floral smell and taste! My Chanukah miracle….save your etrog!! (You can use a teaspoon of rose water instead, but it only approximates the taste….)
- 2 pounds of yellow apples, peeled and sliced
- etrog peel, shredded (2 Tbsp)
- etrog juice (1 tsp) or rose water
In a large pot cook down the apples with the peel and juice or rose water until nice and soft. Blend with an immersion blender. Serve warm or cold over the potato latkes. If you desire a sweeter applesauce, you can add a tablespoon or two of sugar to taste.
The last part of the dinner is still undergoing changes. For dessert I served a sweet freshly shredded carrot and beet latke spiced with baharat. It was served on a puddle of passionfruit sauce with ground coconut, chocolate dust, and pomegranate arils on top. I will be taking this to Tel Aviv for an after- Shabbat Wine and Dine event. Not getting paid, but will have the opportunity to meet some fine chefs and work under one as her sous-chef as well as getting put up in a nice hotel for a couple days. Woot!
We spent evening #4 at a friend’s home. She and her family are native born Israelis, and the dinner that night was typical Israeli food. We sang songs and shared stories and traditions as well as family histories. Highlight of the night: Nadaav, the two year old grandson, lighting the Chanukkia and singing the prayers!!
Max is home again for the last nights of Khag. He wore the Chanukah hat at his Mechinah party, bringing the American spirit (ruakh) to Israel. It was a complete surprise for the kids, and the hit of the party! Go, Max!!!! It seems Chanukah is a minor holiday here, celebrated with small parties, candle lighting and lots of jelly donuts.
So, here’s to the Eight Crazy Nights… may they be filled with peace, joy, and love – old traditions and new memories.