Hanukkah. Hanukka. Chanukah. Chanuka. Chanukkah. Whatever. The holidays are upon us. And for many of my readers that means Advent, Christmas, New Years and Kwanzaa, Kwanza, Kwaanza, Whatever. Let the celebrations: the telling of the story, the decorating, the cooking, the presents and the feasting begin!
We are Americans living abroad. We celebrate American style. Always did. Always will. I love decorating the house seasonally. To make the home warm, inviting, beautiful and fun no matter the occasion is always something I enjoy. And, along with our California neighbors, decorating for Chanukah was no exception. We were not competing with Christmas. It was a festive way of spreading cheer. So when we moved to Israel and put up all the Chanukah decorations (minus the 8 foot Star of David in the front yard made of shiny silver, blue and turquoise Mylar balloons lit by white up lights), our Jewish neighbors thought we were absolutely mishuggeh. Stark raving nuts!! Wow! Those Americans! I don’t care. Now, we have several Israeli friends who stop by just to see the American decorations. I am not worried about assimilation. I know we celebrate the heroism of Mattityahu, Judah, Shimon, Yochanan and the Maccabees who valiantly fought the Greeks, the Seleucids, the Syrians. They faced certain destruction of Israel, their ancestral homeland. They faced annihilation of their religion, Judaism. They saw the defilement of their sacred Temple, yet they fought on to victory. They reclaimed the Temple and saved Judaism. The commemoration of these events are recorded in the books of the Maccabees and in the writings of Josephus. We celebrate this season of Light in the darkness for eight days. Lighting the menorah/chanukiyyah; chanting the blessings; singing great songs that just get better each year; playing games and eating fried foods to remind us of the miracle of the oil that lasted eight days in the Temple.
This year is especially great. When I was back in the States a few weeks ago, all the stores had their holiday wares out. Target had really nice kitchen towels 2/$5!!! Beautiful banners and signs. Window clings. World market had ornaments for Chanukah (OK- so I bought a ton of gorgeous fruit and veggie blown glass ornaments to hang up in the sukkah… can’t we just skip ahead to fall?). Don’t even get me started on HomeGoods, Marshalls and TJMaxx!! Sofa pillows and bathroom towels. PJs for the entire family. They even had Chanukah pet offerings, which I did not get. This time we brought back six full suitcases. Oy to the world-
This year, we’ll try to have over a just a handful of guests: our dear Russian-Israeli neighbors. They are nuts over America and I brought back several goodies for them including the candy they requested. Chanukah jelly-bellies anyone? My old Ulpan teacher and her family. We’ve stayed in touch for years and they’ve become dear friends. Then on Thursday, our son comes home. His university has been on Chanukah break, but he’s been called up for army reserves for most of it. No matter. On Friday three of his school friends are also arriving. They are international students. One is Jewish from Argentina. One is German, and the other American, both Christian. So we’ll be doing a combined Shabbat/Chanukah/Christmas weekend for all to feel included. The more the merrier. (Please, G-d, let my back hold up!!)
Anyway, before we dig into these glorious recipes – I’m just super excited this year! – let me show you some of our table settings past. I use my good blue and white china, which I especially love for the holidays. Before anyone makes any comments about blue and white being dairy plates…I’ve always had this as my good dishes. They are our meat holiday dishes. So, please…. For Chanukah I have my blue tablecloth. At least one Chanukiyyah/Menorah is out as a centerpiece. I use fairy lights, shiny dreidels and gold foil wrapped gelt/coins scattered about. This Shabbat, I’ll combine my white and gold dishes with the blue for a more festive feel.
Last week I sent John to the store to get a few things. One item on the list was fresh ginger. He returned with this:
O.K. I can’t blame him. It does look like ginger. But what the heck are these knobby things? Turns out they are Jerusalem artichokes, or what we called Sunchokes back in California. Actually here they are called tapuah Yerushalmi, or Jerusalem potatoes. They are not potatoes, and I don’t think they grow in Jerusalem, at least I’ve never seen any in the ground there, but…what to do with them???? I can’t believe I actually came up with this recipe, but it was the best, silkiest, richest, most decadent soup!!!! Please, try this one sometime this winter. You must. You won’t regret it. It’s dairy, but you can use plant-based milk if you want to keep it vegan. We always have one complete dairy day during Chanukah to commemorate the heroine, Judith. She vanquished the Seleucid army by plying their general, Holofernes, with warm milk, honey, cheese and wine until he fell into a stupor. Then she cut off his head. When the army saw her come out of his tent holding the head of their top general, they all fled. (Did you know that after the Madonna paintings this is the most widely represented piece of art in both sculpture and oil painting? Botticelli, Caravaggio, Michelangelo, Donatello, Artemesia Gentilleschi and Gustav Klimt to name but a few). Now for the recipe:
Jerusalem Artichoke & Chestnut Soup
- 1 leek, sliced thinly, white part only
- 3 medium white or yellow carrots, peeled, cut in chunks
- 4 cups sunchokes, peeled & cut into chunks
- 2 cups (4 100gram pre-packaged) roasted chestnuts
- 5 cups water or veggie broth
- 2 veggie boullion cubes, if not using broth
- 2 large sprigs fresh rosemary
- 1 large sprig (5-7 leaves) fresh sage, plus some for garnish
- Sea salt, pepper
- 1 cup milk or half and half (can use Rich’s large milk or cream substitute or plant milk)
Sauté leek slices in bottom of heavy pot. When translucent, add veggie chunks and water or vegetable stock, herbs, and spices. Bring to a gentle boil, then let simmer about 30 minutes or until vegetables become tender. Blend thoroughly with an immersion blender until the consistency is silky smooth. It will be on the thick side. Add the milk or milk substitute. Serve hot with a garnish of chestnuts and a sprig or two of rosemary or sage.
Yes, I shall serve the French brisket and techineh cookies from my last blogpost on the last night of Chanukah, which is also Christmas. Hans and James, you will be well taken care of. Friday night Shabbat, we will have turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and sweet potato latkes. I’ll do regular potato latkes and applesauce on Sunday. But as an appetizer for both evenings, I shall serve these amazing Levantine meatballs with Whisky Fig Old Fashions as a cocktail. I’m calling them Levantine because they have claim not just by the Israeli, but also the Lebanese or Moroccan or Persian or Syrian. In any case, they are decidedly Middle Eastern and incredibly delicious – and easy to make. You can serve them as a main dish over rice with a green vegetable on the side. I will give each guest a small plate of four meatballs with toothpicks to enjoy before the festive meal gets underway.
Levantine Meatballs with Pomegranate Glaze
- makes 30 ping-pong sized meatballs
For the meatballs-
- Large red/purple onion peeled and chopped fine, reserving 1/4 cup for glaze
- 1 pound ground lamb (if you can’t find lamb, substitute beef, but seriously try to get lamb)
- 2 eggs
- 3/4 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp coriander, ground
- 1 1/2 heaping tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp ground allspice
- 1/2 cup bulgur wheat (burgil)
For the glaze-
- 1/4 cup red/purple onion, reserved from above
- 1 cup pomegranate syrup (found in MidEast stores) or pomegranate concentrate
- 3 Tbsp honey
- 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
- 2 tsp baharat (mixture of allspice, cumin, black pepper, ground cloves, salt, ground cinnamon)
The first thing is to cook the glaze while all else is getting ready. In a small saucepan, add in all above ingredients for glaze. Heat over medium heat until just before a boil sets in. Then turn down heat to low and simmer while meatballs are prepared. The volume of the sauce will be reduced.
Place uncooked bulgur in a medium bowl. Pour about 1cup (or a little more) boiling water over top and let sit. In a large bowl, combine ground lamb, onion, chopped herbs, eggs and spices. When bulgur has puffed up and absorbed the liquid, drain well with a colander. Add grain to meat mixture and mush together all the ingredients with your hands. In a large skillet, heat up a bit of olive oil until hot and shimmery. Form meat into ping pong sized balls and add to skillet. Brown meatballs on all sides. Transfer to a baking dish. Pour reserved pomegranate glaze over top. Finish cooking by baking 20 minutes in a 350*F/170*C oven. To serve, pour a bit of the glaze over meatballs and garnish with pomegranate arils and mint leaves.
My last recipe can be served as a hearty lunch or as a side dish. It’s pareveh, which in Kosher talk means it’s neither meat or dairy: it’s a neutral food that can be served with everything. It, too, uses bulgur, which really is a staple food here. I figure, why leave you with an open bag of bulgur, which you might not use up, so here’s another healthy, hearty dish (served cold or at room temperature). And yes, I brought back 3 bottles of Brianna’s dressing with me. Go figure-
Harvest Bulgur Salad
- 1 cup uncooked bulgar wheat
- 3 cups boiling water
- 1 medium orange sweet potato
- 1 small red onion, peeled and chopped fine
- 1 avocado, medium ripe, diced
- 1/3 cup dried cherries or cranberries
- 2 red gala apples, diced
- 1/3 cup Brianna’s Blush Wine vinaigrette dressing (or recipe below)
Preheat oven to 400*F/200*C. Bake the sweet potato until just tender (20-30 minutes depending on size). Don’t overtake! In large bowl, pour boiling water over bulgur. Let stand about 30 minutes to puff up and absorb the water. Drain very well using a large colander. Transfer bulgur to large bowl. Peel and diced baked sweet potato. Add in chopped onion, avocado, apple and sweet potato cubes. Add in dried fruit. Mix gently just to combine. Toss with Brianna’s dressing or with dressing recipe given below.
Vinaigrette: mix well following ingredients-
- 1/3 cup sunflower or canola (or avocado or pumpkinseed oil)
- 1/4 cup sweet blush or white wine
- 1/4 cup champagne or white wine or forest fruit vinegar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 Tbsp honey
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1/4 tsp allspice
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- juice of 1/4 onion (hack: use a garlic press to squeeze out onion juice!) and reserved pulp
Combine above ingredients. Using funnel, pour into nice bottle. Cap. Shake well before using.
And to all my readers out there in Blogland-