Friday, December 19, 2008

Hanukkah - The Festival of Food

This time of year menorahs are lit, warming the winter's night. It means that Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights is about to begin. It also means that a festival of eating is also about to start. For centuries mother s and grandmothers have delighted children with all sorts of treats from latkes to brisket. This is the stuff of happy memories even during the bleakest of times.

latkes are an ancient food.They were made to celebrate not just the freedom fighters, the Maccabee brothers who fought the Greco Syrians but also to celebrate the miracle afterwards. After the skirmish, Judah Maccabee had wanted to get rid of the pagan deities the Greeks had se tup. He had also wanted to rid th e temple of the defiled oil used for lighting the menorah. They had found untouched oil, but only enough for one night. The oil lasted for eight nights hence the reason Hanukkah is an eight day festival. The word itself is from Old Hebrew and means to dedicate or possibly educate. For over two thousand years it has been celebrated. Latkes are from this time period however were made with cheese and egg. It was the introduction of the New World potato to Europe that forever changed the latke's basic recipe. The name itself is from Russian, from the Ukranian oldke . This is derived from the old Russian oladya which is derived ironically from the Greek eladia, or little oily thing .

Everyone has their spin on latkes. The best ones are made with starchier potatoes that produce a crunchy, chewy pancake. If you want a more golden latke then use duck eggs which also provide a richer taste. For a different taste use coarsely minced scallions instead of onions. Olive oil is a must for frying. it produces the best results and doesn't burn the way butter does. Latkes can be made up to eight hours in advance of frying if you're busy. Serve with sour cream or applesauce. (this is what this shiksa grew up on).

Hanukkah is the time to celebrate the Maccabees victory over the Greeks and their polytheism. It;s also the time to cherish warm foodie memories of latkes and light on a cold winter's evening.

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