When it comes to the Jewish holidays, traditional foods are served alongside heaping helpings of memory and identity.
For Leah Hadad, a lawyer-turned-recipe developer-entrepreneur, whose company, Tribes-a-Dozen, produces Voila! Hallah kosher bread mixes, Hanukka food and traditions “symbolize the dual identity that is the experience of a child of immigrants.”
Hadad’s family traces its history back to Yemen, but she was born in Israel and now lives in the United States. As a child in Israel she experienced a festive mix of Israeli/Ashkenazi games, songs, and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) at school, while at home “there was not much fanfare” — a few coins and lighting of candles.
But there was also zalabia, a kind of free-form fried fritter beloved in the Middle East and North Africa. The common denominator between the doughnuts and the fritters, of course, is the oil that gives the holiday its symbolic jolt, one that ties Jews from very different cultures together and is a potent reminder of Hanukka’s themes of religious freedom and liberation.
Zalabia is a vegan dish made with a flour-sugar-yeast batter. Hadad says it’s traditional to eat zalabia plain, straight from the fryer, although some people serve it drizzled with honey or sugar syrup or sprinkled with powdered sugar, cinnamon sugar, or even a slather of jam.
These days, in her community in Washington, DC, Hadad is happy to celebrate the American way, by mixing traditions: sufganiyot, zalabia, and potato latkes. In fact, several years ago she won a latke contest even though she was the only non-Ashkenazi woman who competed.
In my family, Hanukka is very different. We light candles of course, but we celebrate in an old-fashioned German way, with roasted goose and all the accompaniments: braised red cabbage, applesauce or bread-apple stuffing, Brussels sprouts, and a gravy made with bountiful amounts of a sweet German wine such as Riesling. I can’t say it’s an old family tradition; it’s something I started many years ago just because it sounded delicious (it is!). To this day though, Jewish families in Germany and eastern France still feast on a similar holiday goose dinner.
Sometimes I serve potato latkes with the goose, but more often I make German fried potatoes cooked in goose fat. My mother used to serve these with roasted capon or chicken (she used chicken schmaltz). German fried potatoes cook to a gorgeous russet-gold brown with a crunchy paprika-goose fat crust. Inside is all soft, mineral-laden potato flesh. Most of the time I triple the recipe because this dish is well-loved at our house (and if there are any latkes left over, they make a fabulous side dish for breakfast eggs).
No matter what your background, Hanukka is a time to celebrate. The food is not usually your everyday fare. It’s a treat to be savored maybe once a year and enjoyed for both its flavor and its symbolic meaning. When you’re cooking for your celebration this year, try out these two treats from the Yemenite and German traditions.
Leah Hadad’s Zalabia
Prep time: 1 hr. 45 min.
Cooking time: 25 minutes
Yield: 16 – 20
500 g all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. coarse sea salt
1 Tbsp. + 2 tsp. or two packets active dry yeast
1 3/4 cups + 1 Tbsp. hot water
2-3 cups of sunflower or safflower oil for frying
Place flour in the mixing bowl of a standing mixer. Create a well in the middle, pour sugar and yeast, and add one cup water. Let stand for five minutes until it froths. Add salt and the rest of the water and mix with the dough hook on low speed for about nine minutes, scraping the hook and sides of the bowl as needed. The dough should be soft and sticky. With wet hands smooth the top, cover, and let stand in a warm, draft-free area for 45 minutes. The dough should more than double in bulk. With wet hands, gently deflate the dough and let rise again for about 30 minutes. You should see large air pockets on the top. While the dough is rising for the second time, heat one inch of oil in heavy bottom skillet or pot and maintain the temperature at 365-375 degrees. With wet hands, tear a small fist-size portion of the dough; stretch the dough a bit into a small rectangle and place carefully in the oil. The zalabia will puff up and then float in the hot oil. Fry for about 90 seconds until golden, and then turn the fritter around and fry for another 60-90 seconds. Scoop the zalabia with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel. Best when served fresh. Enjoy!
Ronnie Fein’s German Fried Potatoes
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 35 minutes
Makes 4-6 servings
2 lbs. small white or red potatoes
3 Tbsp. goose fat (or use chicken fat or butter)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped, optional
2 tsp. paprika
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Place the potatoes in a large saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender and can be pierced with the tip of a small, sharp knife. Drain the potatoes under cold water. Peel the potatoes and cut them into smaller chunks. Heat the goose fat and olive oil in a large sauté pan, preferably cast iron. Add the onion, if used, and the potatoes. Sprinkle with the paprika, salt, and pepper. Cook over medium heat, turning the potatoes from time to time to crisp the surface.