Just Not Donuts! A Food Writer Tells Us What She Cooks At Hanukkah | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

Just Not Donuts! A Food Writer Tells Us What She Cooks At Hanukkah

Hanukkah table photo by Ekaterina Markelova via Shutterstock.com

Tel Aviv based food journalist Janna Gur explains her holiday preference for savory beet-potato latkes over sweet sufganiyot. Recipe included!

Facebook icon
Twitter icon

As a child in the former Soviet Union, Janna Gur knew little about Jewish holidays. It wasn’t until her family emigrated to Israel when she was a teenager that she learned about the eight-day winter Festival of Lights known as Hanukkah.

“I’ve always loved Hanukkah,” says theTel Aviv-based food journalist and cookbook author. “I love Israeli winter, and I love the songs, and the candle lighting is beautiful. It reminds me of the Russian New Year [Novy God] of my youth.”

But she is not fond of sufganiyot, the deep-fried filled donuts that reign supreme in Israeli Hanukkah food culture.

Oil figures prominently in Hanukkah treats. That’s because of the drops of olive oil that burned miraculously for eight days after the Maccabees recaptured the Second Temple from the invading Greek-Syrians in the second century BCE.

Oil figures prominently in Hanukkah treats. That’s because of the drops of olive oil that burned miraculously for eight days after the Maccabees recaptured the Second Temple from the invading Greek-Syrians in the second century BCE.

Israeli food journalist and cookbook author Janna Gur. Photo by Dan Peretz

“As time goes by, people are buying rather than making sufganiyot and bakeries are getting crazy with outrageous toppings and not even frying them, which is the whole point,” Gur says.

If we take donuts off the table, what’s left? After all, Gur points out, “There’s no such thing as a Hanukkah meal like you have on Passover or Rosh Hashana.”

Her preference is savory latkes (levivot in Hebrew), the potato pancakes that American Ashkenazi Jews associate most with the holiday.

On her website are recipes for Ashkenazi Potato Latkes, Hanukkah Balkan Potato and Leek Pancakes, and Orna and Ella’s Sweet Potato Latkes. The latter is a rare vegan latke; usually, potato pancakes are bound with eggs.

There’s a recipe for Syrian ejjeh fried vegetable and meat patties in her 2014 cookbook Jewish Soul Food: From Minsk to Marrakesh, an interesting main-dish alternative for Hanukkah.

Two lovely latke variations appear in Gur’s newest cookbook, Shuk: from Market to Table, The Heart of Israeli Home Cooking, coauthored with Israeli-American chef Einat Admony.

One is aruk, a patty made of herbs and mashed potatoes, traditionally served for Friday lunch in Iraqi Jewish households.

The other is more evocative of Gur’s Soviet childhood, jazzing up plain potato pancakes with the addition of beets. (See recipe below.)

Beet latkes with preserved lemon and yogurt dressing. Excerpted from “Shuk” by Einat Admony and Janna Gur (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2019. Photograph by Quentin Bacon

“I’m a beet freak, so when I wanted to give an upgrade to the traditional Ashkenazi potato pancake, beets were my solution,” she writes in the recipe intro.

“Unlike potatoes, beets don’t start turning black the moment you grate them, and they preserve their crispiness a bit longer, so it’s easier to pace their preparation and serving. These crunchy-chewy latkes have just the right hint of sweetness to offset the bright dressing.”

Gur might do up a batch of latkes for her two little grandsons. She’ll be caring for them during their Hanukkah break from daycare and preschool.

“Unlike in the United States, Israelis usually have a Hanukkah party only if there are kids around,” she explains.“It’s always about kids, starting with the candle lighting – preferably with the hanukkiya that they made themselves in kindergarten — while wearing paper crowns.”

And despite her disdain for jelly donuts, Gur realistically anticipates that her Hanukkah babysitting duties may include “having a playdate with sufganiyot.”

The following recipes are excerpted with permission from Shuk by Einat Admony and Janna Gur (Artisan Books), copyright © 2019.

Beet Latkes with Preserved Lemon and Yogurt Dressing

This article originally appeared in ISRAEL21c.

Join The Discussion