Going Greek On Chanukah | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

Going Greek On Chanukah


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A twist on the pancake/doughnut option, with extra virgin olive oil and red wine.

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Preparing dishes made with oil, such as the traditional fried potato pancakes (latkes) and jelly doughnuts (sufganiyot), naturally recalls the miracle of the oil that lasted for eight nights instead of one — the heart of the Chanukah story. But there is also the less direct symbolism of incorporating dairy products into the Chanukah menu as a way to honor Judith, who saved the Israelites from the Assyrians.

Judith seduced the enemy general Holofernes with generous amounts of cheese and wine, and when he passed out she cut off his head with his own sword. Even though this story supposedly took place a couple of hundred years before the Chanukah event, it parallels the theme of courage over fearfulness.

Going back at least as early as the fourth century B.C.E., the Romaniote Jews (from the old term Romaioi that once referred to people of the Eastern Roman Empire) are considered to be the oldest Jewish community from Greece, as well as one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world today. They spoke their own dialect called Judeo-Greek, and were a different community from the Spanish/Ladino-speaking (Sephardic) Jews who came to Greece in the late 15th century when fleeing the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions.

Chanukah has traditionally been a minor Jewish holiday. But because of its proximity to Christmas on the calendar in the Western world (especially in North America), Chanukah parties and the custom of gift-giving have become more popular. Although most of the older individuals I spoke with shared with me that the holiday was not such a “big deal” in their home while growing up, they did recall eating a special food during that time that had some symbolic connection to the Chanukah story.

Marcia Haddad Ikonomopoulos, whose family has Sephardic roots from Salonika, shared that she always ate Prasa Keftedes (Ladino for “leek fritters” with eggs and matzah meal) and Boumwelos/Bumuelos (Ladino for “fried dough pastries” from the Old Spanish verb abuñolar meaning “to brown”)  drizzled with honey. Rashel Cohen, whose family comes from the cities of Lárisa and Vólos in the Thessaly region recalls eating leek fritters with a kosher sheep’s milk cheese called kasseri. On the first night she also ate fried balls of dough doused with honey and cinnamon called Loukoumades (likely from the Arabic luqma meaning “mouthful/morsel” ).

In “The Cookbook of the Jews of Greece,” Nicholas Stavroulakis lists a whole wheat pancake recipe from Ioannina called Tiganites that is made with honey, ouzo and walnuts and fried in olive oil. In all of these special foods we see how the use of olive oil has been incorporated to recall the vessel of pure olive oil found by the Maccabees in the Second Temple after their victory over their Hellenistic/Greek oppressors.

The following is a recipe I developed that’s perfect for Chanukah but a departure from the more common fritter/pancake or fried doughnut, as it is fried in extra virgin olive oil rather than butter or vegetable oil. I also add milk and red wine to recall the dairy and wine that Judith fed to Holofernes to get him drunk before killing him in order to save the Israelites.

Although this style of cake fits more into the family of sweet breads like zucchini bread or carrot cake, the combination of olive oil and red wine with cinnamon, cloves and lemon zest creates an earthy flavor that is not overly sweet.

Chanukah Wine Cake with Olive Oil, Cinnamon and Lemon Zest

Zapatillas de baloncesto Nik

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