Friday, December 15, 2006

How I Celebrated Channukah

So, how did I spend the first day of Channukah?

Well, it's a bit of a story...

I started my day with SistR and Jesamine (who played hookey from kindergarten) at Moti's Bureka joint, drinking strong coffee and eating a spinach bureka with homemade pickles. This is not traditional Channukah fare, but it is a big treat for all three of us!

From there, I had to rush home and get all primped and pretty, not for a Channukah party, but for a Brit Milah bash. I don't normally attend Brits, mainly because I think that having the whole world and their 17th cousins 42 times removed gawking while a baby has his covenant made for him, is just a bit barbaric. Fortunately, my friend had the deed done quietly and privately a few weeks ago, and in reality this was a birth celebration.

As with all major celebrations (weddings, engagements etc.) here, this was done at a reception hall, and because the weather was glorious and sunny, the cocktails and nibbles were outside in a flower filled courtyard, with pansies and cyclamen bobbing in a gentle breeze that didn't even hint of winter. As is usual, there was an open bar, all sorts of cured and pickled fish (matjes herring, smoked sprats, pickled herring, cured salmon), various small salady things, skewered chicken hearts and livers grilled over coals (as against on a gas grill), and kosher sushi for the more adventurous...

There was a special area set up for kids, with games and cookie decorating and people to look after the kids. The adults, it was presumed, could look after themselves!

Lunch was then served buffet style, with all kinds of different breads, lots of salads, including huge bowls of lettuce and mixed greens, cherry tomatoes and avocado, grilled eggplant with green tehina, roasted cauliflower, artichoke hearts, corn niblets, tabbouleh, mushroom and baby corn, carrot, pasta. There was fish in a red sauce, chicken drumsticks in a barbeque sauce, turket fillets in a lemon sauce, and stewed steaks, as well as green beans, rice, potatoes, and for the children, chicken schnitzels and chips with lots of ketchup. I stuck to the salads and avoided the desserts, which were parve bavarian cream cakes and molten chocolate cakes. And forget the cappucinos with parve milk... I'll have the double espresso thank you very much!

It was a really wonderful celebration of a new life, with lots of happy chatter going on throughout the speeches and home movies...

From there it was home, with a stop on the way to pick up wonderful pomellos and clementine oranges from the little man, who can be found only on Fridays, selling them from the back of his truck outside of the local bakery. That is how alot of produce is sold here, no middle man and picked this morning at dawn. Unless I had my own trees, they couldn't be fresher.

This being Channukah, I felt obliged to make Levivot (Latkes). This wasn't really so terrible because I adore potato pancakes and only indulge myself very rarely.

My Latkes
(1 dozen small latkes, enough for a light lunch, with a salad, for 3 people, appetizers for six, or a token taste for 12)

  • 2 medium potatoes, grated on the big holes of a box grater
    or using the smallest blades of a mandoline (which is what I used)
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1 egg
  • salt and white pepper to taste
  • corn or other neutral oil for shallow frying
  • Maldon salt, freshly ground black pepper, sour cream, smoked paprika and finely sliced green onions to finish and garnish

Unlike most recipes I have read, I don't rinse or drain my potatoes. To help minimize the potatoes oxidizing (turning brown) I grate the onions first and put them into the mixing bowl with a bit of salt sprinkled on them so their juices start running. I grate the potatoes as quickly as possible and mix them with the onion and the egg. This seems to work fairly well for small and medium batches.

Personally, I like eating at the same time as my friends, so I use 2 frying pans to get the job done quicker.

Heat the oven to 160C and have prepared a baking tray with paper towels to absorb the oil from the latkes while they stay warm.

Heat the pan(s) to medium heat and then add about 2 tablespoons of oil. It should immediately start to shimmer, but not smoke. A piece of potato will sizzle vigourously, but not ferociously, when dropped in.

Drop the latke mixture 1 heaping tablespoon at a time into the oil (a 9 inch pan will fit 3-4 spoonfuls - you don't want them crowded because then you can't turn them easily). Smooth and flatten out the top of the latkes and neaten the edges. (note that the pan is only lightly covered in oil)

You needn't be too exact, rough edges get crispier. The heat should be medium to medium low - you need the potatoes to cook at roughly the same speed as they brown. If the heat is too low they absorb too much oil, if it is too high they burn before they are cooked. I cooked mine for about 6 minutes a side.

I can't be too accurate about my cooking time today because I had an interruption and had to ignore them. "What, ignore your latkes?" you exclaim in horror.

Well, I think it was a worthwhile interruption,...

Christmas Carolers!

I'm not kidding. My doorbell rang and there were some Philippino women (and a little helper) complete with guitar, offering to sing me a Christmas carol. How cool is that? I have never, ever, in my entire life, been caroled before. It is the type of thing you only see in movies... But tonight I was caroled, and then asked for a donation for the Children's Joy Foundation. What the heck, it's Christmas and Channukah and I'm grateful for all the good things in my life, so I emptied out my pockets, literally, (I didn't have anything but small change, not having gone to the bank today) and in exchange for a donation to an organization that I have no connections to either in terms of faith or belief, I got Jingle Bells and We Wish You a Merry Christmas. And lots of good wishes for the holiday season. It felt surprisingly good!

And my latkes didn't seem to suffer from their momentary lack of attention.

They may even have benefitted by getting even crispier.

Once the undersides are a deep golden brown, gently turn the latkes over and continue cooking until the other side is nicely browned too. If necessary add a touch more oil to the pan. When they are done, transfer them to the paper towelled baking tray and put it in the oven to stay warm while you make the rest of the latkes.

To serve, sprinkle with the Maldon salt and green onions, add a blob of the sour cream and dot that with the smoked paprika. Grind black pepper lightly between the latkes to decorate the plate.

Eat immediately.

Dessert, courtesy of SistR, was a deluxe version soufgania.

(tranlation: a raised donut filled with dulche de leche)

Happy Channukah!

And don't forget, if you are looking for the perfect Channukah or Christmas gift, for yourself or someone else, don't forget to check out the Menu for Hope III.


burekaboy — said...

aj, that was THE funniest post! only in israel are you going to get something like this. missionaries, u think? you would hope they sang you "oy to the world" as the gorgeola latkes of yours sizzled away. they look amazingly good. i love/prefer the larger grate too. but no knuckle, please.

and as for the bris .... what?! you didn't eat a sample of every single last thing?!?!? sounds like an incredible spread, outdoors, yet, in winter. but what the ... ?? parve milk in a cappucino?? double yuk.

there was this guy who used to sell strawberries outside of his stationwagon next to a busy local restaurant across the street from me. pomello-man reminded me of him all these years later.

oh btw, now you have to overnight me 2 dozen of those deluxe delicioso sufganiyot a la dulce de leche.

חג שמח

David said...

חג שמח לך איה ולקוראי הבלוג שלך באשר הם שם
happy Chanuka to you A.
This year I'm resting from preparing Sufganiot to make room for Chrust or paverki or elephants ears or whatever is the name for deep fry dough with ice suger. resepee here (Hebrew)

aja said...

Hey BB,
Thanks - I never thought of myself as a comedienne!

I didn't do the meat or parve stuff on principle, parve, you can understand, the meat because I like it straight from the pan or off the grill and onto my plate, still spluttering. But other people ate with gusto. Besides, I knew I was having latkes for dinner!

Your strawberry guy could be my pomello guy, because he also does strawberries in season. And his prices?!? Well, I'm a preferred customer after all - a huge plastic grocery bag of pomellos or pomelite and a bag of clementinas cost me 15 shekels (about $4.50US) oh how I suffer! 8^P

You should know better about the soufganiot- after 2 hours they resemble rocks, what would they be like after an overnight delivery? They would go perfectly with the cappuccino made with parve milk!

Hey David,
Thanks for dropping by. Your Chrust look delicious. I wonder if they are any relation to the Kishke my aunt always talks about. Well, next time I see her (either she has to visit me here or I have to go to the land of ice and snow) I will take out your recipe and see what she has to say...


burekaboy — said...

4.50??! that's like one pomello here! and most of it is pith. how indeed you suffer, funny girl. sad about the exponential degradation of the sufganiyot, isn't it? sigh. i shall go cry into my oil slick of a parve cup of cappucino now. :(

aja said...

Hey BB,
Actually it's pretty good about the exponential degradation of soufganiot, otherwise we would be eating them until February - the quantities that are bought are ridiculous - I think they cater at 6 per person, per day...
Hope you enjoyed your parve cap.

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