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Food & Drink

Hanukkah: A brief culinary history

Photo: Miriam Sitz, License: N/A

Miriam Sitz

You can make traditional latkes at home or enjoy a sweet potato version from Green Vegetarian Restaurant (above)

Sephardi Jews, whose roots trace back to the Iberian Peninsula, consume dairy foods during Hanukkah in a culinary nod to the story of Judith, a pious widow who saved her village from the invading Assyrian general Holofernes by feeding him salty cheeses, getting him drunk on wine, then later beheading him (Go Judy!). “For Sephardi Jews,” Brittany Power explained, “cheeses, quiches and cheesecake are often consumed during Hanukkah.”

Power is a professionally trained culinarian, caterer and cook who belongs to Temple Beth-El in San Antonio. She specializes in Sephardi and Mizrahi (Middle Eastern Jewish) cuisine and shared her recipe for an Italian ricotta cheese pancake called cassola.

3/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 cup ricotta cheese

1 cup honey
1 teaspoon orange flower water
2 tablespoons orange juice

Sift flour and combine with sugar, salt and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. In a second bowl, beat eggs and blend with lemon zest and ricotta. Slowly mix in dry ingredients. Coat a frying skillet with nonstick spray and place over medium heat. Drop batter from a spoon into the skillet. Cook until tiny holes cover the surface of the cakes, then flip and cook until set. Remove and put aside on paper-lined platter. Combine honey, orange flower water and orange juice and drizzle over cakes.

Jelly doughnuts, or sufganiyot, are another beloved Hanukkah food, particularly among Ashkenazi Jews. “Sufganiyot are an Israeli tradition that’s become popular here in the last 10 to 15 years,” said Stokes, “Some people who are really enterprising make them, but they’re available in many grocery stores during Hanukkah, too.”

Hailing from the Sephardi tradition, Power’s alcoholic concoction of choice for Hanukkah is sciroppa di vino, an Italian wine syrup served over ice with soda water.

Sciroppa di Vino
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 cups dry red wine
1 cup honey
1 cinnamon stick
2 whole cloves
2 strips orange zest
1 bay leaf

Pour sugar and wine into a 3-quart saucepan over low heat. Stir until sugar dissolves, then add honey and stir well. Add cinnamon, cloves, orange zest and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer then cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced and thickened. Strain the cooled syrup through a fine mesh and pour over ice with soda water or into bottles for storage.

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