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Congregants compete for Hanukka’s top chef
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Congregants compete for Hanukka’s top chef

Evan Zagha of Manalapan, a recent graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, gives former Manalapan Mayor Michelle Roth a few pointers in making potato apple latkes during the latke cook-off Dec. 7 at Congregation Sons of Israel.
Evan Zagha of Manalapan, a recent graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, gives former Manalapan Mayor Michelle Roth a few pointers in making potato apple latkes during the latke cook-off Dec. 7 at Congregation Sons of Israel.

Members of Congregation Sons of Israel in Manalapan used ingredients the Maccabees never could have dreamed of during the Dec. 7 latke cook-off sponsored by the sisterhood.

In addition to the traditional white potatoes and the upstart yams, cooks added leeks, apples, zucchini, raisins, cream cheese, and cranberries to their concoctions.

Throughout the building, the smell of frying latkes mixed with the aroma of baking holiday desserts, including the traditional sufganiot (doughnuts).

The program was coordinated by Barbara Zagha of Manalapan, who in the weeks before the event compiled the day’s recipes into a booklet. The 21 recipes range from mini-cheesecakes and easy jelly doughnuts to dairy-free potato, leek, and onion latkes.

“Some people were shy and didn’t want to send in recipes,” Zagha said. “Others wanted to participate, but didn’t know they were going to work until they showed up.”

Keith Epstein of Monroe said the sweet potato latkes he and his wife, Rochelle, were whipping up came “straight from the Epstein kitchen” (although she admitted they got the recipe from a newspaper in 2006 and have been making it ever since).

“Barbara always does wonderful cooking classes,” said sisterhood copresident Harriet Zucker. “We always get an impressive turnout, and they are always a great success.”

Although the majority of cooks were women, some men lent a hand.

“When the men come, I give them something easy,” said Zagha as four men sat making chocolate mousse with fresh fruit. “I taught them how to fan strawberries.”

Overseeing the whirl of activity was Evan Zagha, a recent Culinary Institute of America graduate, whose interest in cooking was sparked by his mother. “He’s living my dream,” said Barbara, as Evan raced about giving instructions and offering cooking tips.

He even grabbed some latecomers who were disappointed they had missed a chance to cook.

“I’ve got a project for you,” he said as he instructed them in the making of hash browns, which were cooked, placed on a plate, and scooped up by the hungry cooks.

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