The original story of Channukah (or Hanuka, Chanuka, or Hanukkah) recounts the rededication of the second temple of Israel. During the first century C.E., the Holy Temple of Jerusalem was under Greek rule, and the Jews could not enter and pray in this sacred and holy place. Miraculously, in 148 C.E. the Jews defeated the Greeks and reclaimed their temple. It had been desecrated and needed to be rebuilt and cleaned up. The rededication of the temple lasted eight days, and included burnt offerings. This celebration became the annual holiday of Hanukah (the spelling my computer spell-check prefers).
Centuries later, the story is retold in the Talmud, and is embellished with the miracle of oil: When the Jews were cleaning up the temple, they need to oil to light the “Eternal Light.” They found an oil flask that seemed to contain only enough to last for 1 day, but instead lasted for eight. It is through this story that foods cooked in oil become the central theme of the holiday.
To me, the real theme of the holiday is potato pancakes (latkes in Jewish), a further stretch of imagination from the original story – since the potatoes are cooked in a only a modest amount. The shredded potatoes are mixed with onion and perhaps a little flour and egg for binding, and are served with either sour cream or apple sauce.
Modern culinarians have adapted the original recipe to include zucchini, parsnips or sweet potatoes. My preferred recipe is a blend of regular and sweet potatoes. I make homemade pink applesauce – the pink coming from the skin of red apples.
Sweet Potato Latkes
2 medium new potatoes Idaho potatoes
2 tbs. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
salt and pepper to taste
1. Peel potatoes and onions. Grate using the largest whole of a cheese grate or food processor. Pour into a colander and squeeze out the liquid.
2. Mix potatoes with flour, egg, salt, pepper and baking powder.
3. Heat a large skillet over medium high flame and add about 2 tbs. oil. Spoon about 2 tbs. of batter per latke – about 4 latkes per batch. Cook for about 5 minutes or until brown, flip and cook on other side. Repeat until all the batter is used
4. Serve with apple sauce or sour cream or both.
5. Latkes can be pre-made and recrisped in a 450F oven just before serving.
Pink Apple Sauce
3 empire apples, cored with the skin on
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
a few drops of lemon juice
1. Put apples, sugar and water in a sauce pot. Cook over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Continue cooking over medium-low heat, covered, until apples turn mushy.
2. Remove from heat. Press sauce through a food mill to extract the peels from the sauce. Add a few drops of lemon juice.