Chanukah: The Festival of Frying

Chanukah -- the Jewish festival of lights -- begins tonight at sundown. So what's for dinner?

Traditional recipes for food, savory and sweet, cooked in oil, are found on Chanukah menus in Jewish communities around the world. Ashkenazi Jewish families, with roots in Russia and Eastern Europe, favor latkes (potato pancakes) while Sephardic Jewish families mark their celebration with fried yeast dough and fritters as well as special cheese dishes.

Cooking in oil is a symbolic representation of the story told during Chanukah of the miracle of the oil, used to rededicate the Temple, after the Maccabee victory over the Seleucid empire in 166 B.C.E. The Greek King of Syria, Antiochus Epiphanes, outlawed the practice of Judaism and used the Temple in Jerusalem for pagan rituals and practices.

After three years of resistance, the Jewish Maccabees cleaned the Temple and lit a days worth of sanctified oil, all that remained, to rededicate the Temple. The oil burned for eight days.Today, we celebrate the miracle of the oil by lighting candles and eating traditional fried food during Chanukah, the Festival of Frying Lights.

Follow the jump for recipes: sweet potato latkes, sufganiyot (donuts) and apple fritters

Sweet potato latkes yield 24 latkes
Traditional latkes, potato pancakes, are made with russets or Yukon gold potatoes and yellow onions. Sweet potatoes have less starch than white potatoes, which means no draining or squeezing the grated potatoes when preparing.

2 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled
1 lb parsnips, peeled
5 large or 10 small shallots, peeled
6 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4-1 cup matzo meal
1 Tablespoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
2 cups Vegetable oil for frying (peanut oil or canola oil)

Grate the sweet potatoes, parsnips and shallots using a coarse grater or the medium (coarse) grating disc in of a food processor.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the potato mixture with the beaten eggs, Kosher salt, ground pepper, nutmeg and ginger. Add 3/4 cup matzo meal, add the additional 1/4 cup matzo meal if mixture feels too wet.
In a 12 inch skillet with deep sides, add 1 cup oil. Heat oil to 350 F.
Use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to scoop sweet potato mixture, hold the cup close to the hot oil, and carefully slide mixture into oil. Use the back of a spatula to gently pat the mound into an even thickness (about 1/3 inch).
Repeat with 3 more pancakes. be careful not to overcrowd the pan.
Fry the pancakes until the edged are browned and they are golden brown on the bottom.
Carefully turn the pancakes, and cook the other side. (each side should take about 3 minutes)
Remove the pancakes from the oil and drain on paper towels.

Tips:Remove any left over brown bits from the pan with a slotted spoon.
Continue to cook latkes, maintain the level of the oil and check the oil temperature before frying remaining latkes.
Latkes can be refrigerated (up to 3 days) or frozen in a single layer. Reheat on baking sheet in 325 F oven until hot and crispy.

Serve with sour cream, applesauce, apple-pear compote or mango chutney.

Sufganiyot-yield 28-30
In Israel, sufganiyot are as popular as latkes are in America. Each year during Chanukah, customers line up outside their favorite bakeries to purchase new versions of this donut equivalent as pastry chefs compete with new flavors and fillings. This is a no yeast recipe, cutting down on prep time!

3/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 and 1/2 cups AP flour, divided
vegetable oil for frying (peanut oil or canola oil)

1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup honey + 1/2 teaspoon orange juice, warmed in microwave for 30 seconds
60-72 % bittersweet chocolate or milk chocolate, gently melted in microwave

Use a hand mixer or a stand mixer: combine milk, sugar, vegetable oil, eggs, baking powder, Kosher salt, and 1 cup of the flour in a large mixing bowl. Mix ingredients on low speed for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Continue to mix at medium speed for another 2 minutes.
Add remaining 1 and 1/2 cup flour. Mix on low speed until flour is incorporated.
In a Dutch oven or a wok, heat 3 cups of vegetable oil to 350-360 F.
Measure dough by teaspoons, and gently drop into the hot oil.
(If you make larger portion, turn the heat down to 320 F, they take longer to cook inside)
With a slotted spoon, gently turn the dough until it is deep golden brown on all sides
Remove and drain on paper towels.
In a large plastic bag, combine sugar and cinnamon.
Add warm donuts and shake to coat.
Place donuts on plate and drizzle with honey or dip in chocolate.
Optional: use a small tip on a pastry bag and pipe 1 teaspoon of filling into donuts.
Fillings: seedless jam, chocolate ganache, pastry cream, dulce de leche

Apple Fritter-yield 24
Fritters made with a beer batter are crisp and delicious. Make the batter 1 hour ahead and allow to rest before using. Try this recipe with pears!

3/4 cup AP flour
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon brandy or rum
1/2 cup light beer
2 egg whites
4 medium size crisp apples, peeled and cored
1/2 cup powdered sugar

In a large mixing bowl, sift together flour and sugar.
Stir beaten egg, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and brandy or rum into flour.
Slowly add the beer as you whisk the mixture. Note: Add only enough beer to make a batter that is as thick as pancake batter.
Cover and allow to rest for 1 hour.

In a Dutch oven or wok, heat 2 cups vegetable oil to 350 F.
While oil is heating, beat egg whites until stiff and glossy.
Fold the beaten egg whites into the batter with a spatula or wooden spoon.
Cut the peeled and cored apples into 1/4 inch slices. Slice across the width of the apples to create rings. Pat the apple slices dry.
Dip the apple slices in the batter coating completely.
With a fork or a tong, gently lower the coated apple slices into the hot oil. Do not crowd the pan.
Fry apple fritters until golden brown on each side.
Remove from oil and drain on paper towels.
Keep fritters warm in a 200 F oven until ready to serve.
Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

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