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We've Struck Oil!

December 14, 2011 By:
Sybil Kaplan, JTA
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JERUSALEM — Latkes and sufganiyot, the jelly-filled doughnuts especially popular in Israel, are well-known Chanukah fare made with oil to signify the holiday tale.

Lesser known is the tradition of cheese and the story of Judith.
 
Like the Chanukah story, which is part of the Apocrypha -- books not incorporated into the Bible -- the book of Judith tells of a beautiful widow whose town was under siege by the army of the Assyrians and decided to visit the commander in chief of the army to ask him not to overtake the town.
 
As the story goes, she gives him wine, he gets drunk and falls into a stupor. Judith beheads the king and saves her people and the town.
 
Legend has it that Judith fed him cheese to make him thirsty, and since she lived in the same period as the Maccabees, Jews of various communities instituted the custom of eating cheese dishes in honor of her heroism.
 
On my cookbook shelf is a a classic written in the 1970s -- A Taste of Tradition by Ruth Sirkis, the "Julia Child of Israel." Sirkis has written many cookbooks and was the food editor for a major Israeli women's magazine; she also had a popular radio show.
 
A Taste of Tradition covers all the Jewish holidays; below are some of her Chanukah recipes. Plus, to celebrate Judith, I've included some cheese recipes from various sources.
 
Vanilla Ricotta Fritters
(Dairy)
This recipe comes from a Chicago chef, Gale Gand, who got it from her mother-in-law.
vegetable oil
 3 large eggs
 1/4 cup sugar
 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
11/4 cup flour
2 tsps. baking powder
confectioner's sugar
 
In a large saucepan, heat 2 inches of vegetable oil. Set a large wire rack over a baking sheet, top with paper towels and position near the saucepan.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the ricotta and beat until smooth. Add flour and baking powder and beat until just blended.
Using a very small ice cream scoop or 2 teaspoons, slide 8 walnut-size rounds of batter into the hot oil. Fry over moderate heat until deep golden all over and cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the fritters to the rack to drain. Continue frying the remaining fritters in batches of 8.
Arrange the fritters on a platter and dust well with confectioner's sugar.
Makes 8 servings.
 
Cheese Latkes
(Dairy)
This recipe is from Spice and Spirit: The Complete Kosher Jewish Cookbook of the Lubavitch Women.
 3 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup drained cottage cheese
11/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
5 Tbsps. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup oil
 
Place eggs, milk, cottage cheese, flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and vanilla in a bowl and mix until smooth.
Heat oil in a frying pan (if using nonstick pan, use less oil.) Drop batter by spoon into hot oil. Fry until brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels and continue until all batter is used. Keep warm until serving. Serve with sour cream or applesauce.
 
Paradise Ponchiki
(Pareve)
Here are recipes by Ruth Sirkis for the mini doughnuts called ponchiki in Russian and ponchkes in Yiddish that were brought to Israel by Polish immigrants, as well as several types of latkes.
 1 cup water
4 oz. margarine
1 cup flour
4 eggs
oil
 
Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan. Add margarine and continue boiling until it melts. Add the flour and mix with a wooden spoon until the mixture forms a ball and leaves the sides of the pan.
Remove from heat. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.
Heat oil in a pot for deep frying. When oil is hot, drop in pieces of dough from a teaspoon. Let puff and turn as needed to assure even browning.
Remove from oil with slotted spoon. Drain on paper towels. Serve hot with warm sauce.
 
Chocolate Sauce
(Pareve)
1 cup light corn syrup
2 oz. unsweetened pareve chocolate
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. unsalted margarine
 
Combine syrup and chocolate in a saucepan. Heat over low heat until the chocolate melts.
Remove from heat, add vanilla and margarine. Mix well. Serve warm.
 
Orange Sauce
(Pareve)
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
juice from 1 lemon
2 Tbsps. orange liqueur
2 tsps. grated orange rind
1 Tbsp. unsalted margarine
 
Mix orange juice, sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and boil for one minute, stirring constantly.
Remove from heat and let cool. Add lemon juice, orange liqueur, orange rind and margarine. Mix.
Serve warm.
(You can also sprinkle confectioner's sugar on ponchiki instead of sauces.)
 
Modern Potato Latkes
(Pareve)
1 cup mashed potatoes
2 oz. margarine
1/2 cup flour
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. salt
dash of white pepper
1 tsp. dehydrated onion flakes
 
Preheat oven to 400°.
Prepare mashed potatoes according to packaged directions, substituting water for milk or boil and mash 1/2 pound fresh potatoes.
Add margarine, flour, eggs, salt, pepper and onion flakes. Mix well.
Fill a pastry bag with a 1/2-inch round tip with potato mixture. Lightly grease a cookie sheet. Press out latkes on cookie sheet to resemble a 3-inch long ladyfinger.
Reduce oven to 375°. Bake latkes for 15 minutes. They should puff a little and have a golden color. Serve immediately.
Makes 16 to 20 latkes.
 
Traditional Latkes
(Pareve)
2 lbs. peeled potatoes
1 small onion
1 small apple
2 eggs
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbsps. flour
1/4 tsp. baking powder
oil
 
Grate potatoes on a coarse grater. Peel and grate onion and apple.
Beat eggs lightly. Add potatoes, onion and blend well. Add salt, flour and baking powder, and mix thoroughly.
Pour one inch of oil in a large skillet and heat. Drop pancake mixture by tablespoons into the hot oil. Fry and brown on both sides. Serve hot with sour cream and applesauce.
Makes 20 latkes.
Note: You can also use an electric blender for grating. Cut each potato into 8 pieces, put in blender and cover with water. Close lid and blend at medium speed for 5 seconds. Drain through a sieve. Put potatoes in bowl and proceed.

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