Festival of Lights...and oil
by Zehorit Heilicher, Tastemaker in Residence
What’s not to like about a holiday that actually requires you to fry your food? Set aside those gluten-free bars and low fat yogurt cups and embrace your inner fried food junky. Just for this Hanukkah holiday – Indulge! Fried dough, fried potatoes and fried veggies – let the oil flow…
Why fried food? Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, following its recapture by Jewish rebels from Greek conquerors in the 2nd century BC. The Greeks desecrated the Temple and only a small amount of purified oil was left in the temple. That oil was used to light the Menorah, candelabra, and should not have lasted long enough until more oil was prepared. However, miracle of miracles: the oil lasted for 8 days, until fresh purified oil could be made for lighting the Menorah. Hence Hanukkah is observed for 8 days, lighting Hanukiyah (a Hanukkah menorah) and eating foods cooked in oil. The holiday also celebrates the victory of the small Maccabee rebel force against the might of the Greek empire: the victory of David against Goliath – again.
I was fortunate to grow up with a mother who has a wide repertoire of specialties. She has a wide selection of fried sweet dough for Hanukkah; Moroccan S’finj, a round doughnut drizzled with a rose water simple syrup, Sufganiot, an Israeli adaptation of the German Berliner – filled with strawberry jam and topped with powdered sugar or her own concoction of a sticky dough which she drops in hot oil to create funky shapes, that we kids adored. Today, in my home, Hanukkah means Sufganiot with a cinnamon sugar coating, a Nutella glaze, or a strawberry jam filling. We also consume latkes (potato pancakes) throughout the week: russet potatoes and onions, sweet potatoes and red onions, veggie and more. By the end of the holiday we need to open the doors to the crisp air of the frozen Minnesota winter, just to air my kitchen from the oil fumes… All for a good cause!