Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, is just around the corner once again, and with it comes the annual treat of dusting off your traditional Hanukkah cookbooks, and experiencing a taste revelation unrivalled at any other time of the year.
Hanukkah is an 8-day Hebrew festival and holiday that has been celebrated since ancient times. Held on different dates according to the cycles of the moon, this year it runs from Saturday 8th to Sunday 18th December.
Hanukkah celebrates the Jewish defeat of the Syrian Greeks in 165 BCE, and the subsequent re-dedication of Jerusalem’s holy temple – during which a miracle kept just one day’s supply of olive oil in the temple’s Menorah candles burning for eight days. Thus many traditional Hanukkah recipes call for liberal use of oil to cook dishes such as latka and sufganiyot (doughnuts).
Dairy foods such as cheese and blintzes are popular, and also give thanks for another victory – this time a beautiful Jewish woman called Judith (Yehudit) who tempted an enemy Babylonian general with such copious amounts of cheese and wine that he lost consciousness and she was able to kill him – thus saving the lives of her people.
Today’s Hanukkah festival remains inspired by these traditions, yet is very focused on spending time with family and friends, and especially the children who enjoy a game called Spinning the Dreidel, which uses gelt – chocolate coins covered in foil.
But you don’t have to be Jewish to create traditional Hanukkah recipes! Many dishes like Latka are simple and easy to make. (They should be crunchy and golden outside and tender inside) and even seemingly more complex dishes like sweet and sour brisket are not especially tricky. The secret for this family favourite is to marinate the meat overnight in the refrigerator to allow the sauerkraut and sugar flavours to fully develop. Traditional Hanukkah Recipes will also remind the cook that it’s essential to cut the brisket with the grain, to ensure it remains tender. There is also a large range of Hanukkah desserts, including honey cakes and an ongoing favourite: peanut butter chocolate chekalim cookies.
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