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December Festivities | Celebrating Hanukkah

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December is a spectacular month full of celebrations! The final month of the calendar year brings about festivities from many different cultures worldwide including Christmas, where we last explored various traditions. This week however, brings Hanukkah to the spotlight.

“More than twenty-one centuries ago, the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), who sought to forcefully Hellenize the people of Israel. Against all odds, a small band of faithful Jews defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of God.

When they sought to light the Temple’s menorah (the seven branched candelabrum), they found only a single cruse of olive oil that had escaped contamination by the Greeks; miraculously, the one-day supply burned for eight days, until new oil could be prepared under conditions of ritual purity.

To commemorate and publicize these miracles, the sages instituted the festival of Chanukah. At the heart of the festival is the nightly menorah (candelabrum) lighting: a single flame on the first night, two on the second evening, and so on till the eighth night of Chanukah, when all eight lights are kindled,” ~ Chabad.org

Being a true lover of all things food and drink, I have always been intrigued by religious traditions,  customs and recipes. Mostly, recipes. Here are two I’d like to share with you!

On Hanukkah is it customary to eat foods that are either fried in oil or made with cheese.

The fried foods custom recalls the miracle of Hanukkah, which centered around oil that lasted eight days. Latkes, or fried potato pancakes, are traditionally topped with applesauce or sour cream.

latkes

Photo Compliments of Food Network

LATKES

Ingredients:

  • salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 lbs (1 kg) potatoes
  • oil for frying

Directions:

Peel and finely grate the potatoes. Put them straight into cold water, then drain and squeeze them as dry as you can by pressing them with your hands in a colander. This is to remove the starchy liquid, which could make the latkes soggy.

Beat the eggs lightly with salt, add to the potatoes, and stir well. Film the bottom of a frying pan with oil and heat. Take serving-spoonfuls, or as much as 1/4 cup (50 ml), of the mixture and drop into the hot oil. Flatten a little, and lower the heat so that the fritters cook through evenly. When one side is brown, turn over and brown the other. Serve hot.

artisan-challah-bread

Photo Credit of YJPBoston.org

Challah is a braided bread traditionally eaten on the Sabbath or Jewish holidays.

CHALLAH

Ingredients

  • Poppy or sesame seeds (optional)
  • 9 1/4 cups (1 1/3 kg) flour
  • 4 eggs, beaten, plus 2 yolks or 1 whole egg for glazing
  • 1 Tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (100g) sugar
  • 2 1/4 cups (500 ml) lukewarm water
  • 2 Tablespoons dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) vegetable oil

Directions

Dissolve the yeast in the water with 1 teaspoon of the sugar. Beat well and leave 10 minutes, until it froths.

In a very large bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Then add the salt, sugar, and oil and beat again. Add the frothy yeast mixture and beat well. Now add the flour gradually, and just enough to make a soft dough that holds together, mixing well, first with a large spoon, then working it in with your hands. Knead vigorously for about 15 minutes, until it is very smooth and elastic, adding flour if the dough is too sticky. Pour a little oil in the bowl and turn the dough, so that it is greased all over. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it in a warm place to rise for 2‑3 hours, or until it has doubled in bulk. Punch the dough down and knead again, then divide into four pieces to make 4 loaves.

To make round challah: Take 1 piece of dough, roll it between your palms, and pull it out into a long fat rope about 18 inches (46 cm) long and 2 inches (5 cm) thick – a little fatter at one end. Take the fatter end and put it in the middle of an oiled baking sheet, then coil the rest of the rope around it like a snail. Continue with the remaining 3 pieces.

To make braided challah with 3 strands: Divide 1 piece of the dough into 3. Roll each piece between your palms and pull into long thin ropes about 18 inches (46 cm) long and 1 1/4 inches (3 cm) wide. Pinch 1 end of all the strands together and plait them: bring the rope on the right over the middle one, then bring the one on the left over it and continue to the end. Pinch the ends together and tuck them under the loaf. You may find it, easier to begin plaiting in the middle of the 3 strands and plait towards the 2 ends. Continue with the remaining 3 pieces.

Place the 4 loaves on well‑oiled baking sheets, leaving plenty of room for them to expand, then leave to rise for 1 hour, or until doubled in bulk. Now brush gently with the beaten egg yolks or if you want to sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds, brush first with the whole beaten egg (the seeds stick better if the white is there too). Bake in a preheated 350F (180C) oven for 30‑40 minutes or until the loaves are beautifully golden-brown. They are done if they sound hollow when you tap the bottoms.

* Hanukkah recipes compliments of The Book of Jewish Food, An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York, published by Knopf.

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