In a few weeks, the Jewish holiday of Chanukkah (pronounced with a *ch* at the beginning as if you are trying to clear your throat) will begin. In the Jewish religion, holidays begin and end at sundown, adhering to the lunar and Jewish calendars; as Chanukkah is celebrated for eight nights, Sunday, December 8 is the first night of Chanukkah this year, and Sunday, December 16 is the last night.
In a very small nutshell, the legend goes that a years long war took place, in an effort to regain the freedom to practice Judaism, in the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Dead Sea. The Jewish army, eventually led by Judah Maccabee, used their extensive knowledge of the land, to launch attacks on a much larger Assyrian army and finally drove them out of the land. In every synagogue, there lives an eternal flame – a light that never goes out – above the ark, the cabinet for the Torah scrolls. Thus, in the all-but-destroyed temple,
there was only enough oil to keep the eternal flame lit for one night (not enough
time to leave, find more oil, and return). However, a great miracle occurred and the oil lasted for eight nights.
This miracle of the oil is what Jews celebrate each year. Chanukkah is a holiday all about oil and lights. You may notice symbols such as a dreidel (a special spinning top with Hebrew letters on each side) and chanukkiah (*chah-nu-key-ah), which is a special candleholder we light each night at sundown. There are spots for 9 candles – one raised candle, called the shamash (shah-mosh), or leader candle, and then positions for 8 others, representing the 8 days the oil burned. The shamash is the first one lit, and each night we light the number of candles corresponding to which night of the holiday (i.e. first night we light the shamash and one more, second night we light the shamash and two more, and so on).
For many children (especially my son, whose name is Judah), Chanukkah
is a favorite holiday. Small gifts are exchanged (however, this is not a
Jewish Christmas), delicious oily foods are eaten, games are played, and families gather to light the candles together.
What can you do? In this set of two posts, I will show you how to make potato latkes (in Hebrew, they are called levivot – leh-vee-vote – or pancakes), create a lovely Chanukkah-themed craft to hang in your window, and look for good stories at your local library.
Bubbe’s Famous Potato Latke
Before you begin, gather the following ingredients:
5 lb bag of russet potatoes (I prefer organic)
2-3 yellow onions (depending on how onion-y you like your potatos to taste)
salt (sea salt or kosher)
oil (canola or vegetable)
optional: applesauce and/or sour cream
Peeler, grater (food processor is super helpful for this), knives, cutting boards,
measuring cups, two large frying pans, paper towels
When I make potato latkes, I do not use specific measurements. The important
thing is to make sure the consistency of the batter comes out right. Also, make lots of them, so you don’t run out before bellies are full.
Peel as many potatoes as you want latkes. 1 medium-sized potato = 2-3 latkes
Chop potatoes into pieces that will fit into your food processor and then grate them all. Remove all potato bits, one handful at a time over the sink. Each time you remove a handful, squeeze the bits in between your hands to drain as much water as possible out. Place the now-dry potato bits into a large bowl.
Finely chop your onions and mix by hand with the potato bits.
In a separate bowl, whisk 3 eggs. Pour them into the potato/onion mixture and mix with your hands. Add in ½ cup matzah meal (this will help to bind the ingredients together) and continue to mix with your hands. You want the mixture to hold up in the oil, without being too runny. If you feel it’s too dry, add another egg, along with ¼ cup more of matzah meal.
Finally, add at least 2 teaspoons of salt (sea salt or kosher salt) and pepper to taste, and mix through.
Heat your pans and add enough oil to cover the bottoms. Allow them to get hot
(test with a drop of water to make sure it sizzles when it drips in). Once thoroughly heated, gently begin to cook your latkes, using a ¼ cup amount of batter for each one. STAY WITH YOUR LATKES! Give them 3-5 minutes on each side to get crispy and cook all the way.
Once each is done, remove and drain on a plate lined with paper towels. Add a bit more oil so the pan is covered and begin again until all of your batter is cooked!
Serve hot with applesauce and/or sour cream. Can be used as a main course (with soup and a salad) or as a side dish (typically with meat).
For dessert, continue the oil theme and pick up a dozen glazed doughnuts (the quick way to serve sufganiyot – soof-gahn-ee-yote)!
Chag Sameach (chag sah-may-ach), Hebrew for Happy Holiday!
This is so great!!! Thank you so much Mia- I can’t wait to make some of your famous potato latkes for dinner with my kids:). Don’t forget to try her beautiful Hanukkah craft, and read her recommend books about Hanukkah for kids! Do any of you celebrate Chanukkah? What are your favorite memories of the holiday?
Today’s guest post is written by Mia, mom to son Judah, age 5 ½, and wife of Dan. She works as a teacher coach for Children’s Literacy Initiative, a non-profit based in Philadelphia, helping to improve the quality of instruction in inner city schools. Though raising her son in a Jewish home, diverse and multicultural values weigh heavily in making daily parenting choices. In her spare time, she enjoys acupuncture, meditation, walking the dog (Mooshu), cooking delicious plant-based superfoods, reading and writing, and volunteering as an advocate for cancer awareness and healthful living. You can find her at her blog, Remission Statement. Not only do we get to learn about the meaning behind Chanukkah (sometimes seen spelled “Hanukkah”), she’s also shared a recipe for potato latkes!