This year, Chanukah (or Hanukkah) coincidentally lands on the heels of Christmas. So when hungry Saint Nicholas arrives at the North Pole, he can munch on a variety of tasty latkes with assorted toppings, along with traditional Christmas fare, before he makes his chimney rounds. Since we're a melting pot of cultures, there are many culinary crossovers that allow us to partake in the delights of all traditions. Here are some food highlights from the two major league winter festivals. Yes, it's beginning to feel a lot like "Christmakah."
From Eggnog to Yule Log
Christmas herbs and spices are the cornerstone of the holiday season. The latter come out of the pantry like gangbusters, especially cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger, while the herbs, equally as bold, including rosemary, sage, thyme, peppermint and lavender, dial up both sweets and savories. There are many options for a festive Christmas dinner from exotic fowls of goose, swan, pheasant and quail, to more traditional birds especially turkey, duck and Cornish hen. When there's a "pork" in the road, choose grass-fed, immune-boosting rack of lamb or crown roast over fatty, sodium-laden ham. Or heart-healthy, mineral-rich sea treasures, such as wild-caught salmon, Dungeness crab and deep-sea scallops. If you insist on the other white meat as the main attraction, then, it's best to do a lean pork loin roast.
Alas, desserts have a sinful amount of sugar, fat and carbs, some so dense they could double as weight-training devices. Fruitcake, anyone? Marzipan, plum pudding, mincemeat pie, gingerbread houses, and imports like panettone, stollen and buche de noel aka the Yule log are the glorious epitomes of the holiday season, and since they come but once a year, indulgences are permitted.
Wash it down nicely with a wide range of cocktails and mocktails that scream Christmas cheer – from the traditional eggnog and hot apple cider, to creative concoctions, like a Gingerbread Man (butterscotch schnapps and Bailey's Irish Cream) or a Mistletoe Martini (melon liquor, coconut rum, pineapple juice).
A Festival of Lights and Latkes
Jews celebrate Chanukah to commemorate the miracle in ancient times when Judah Macabee found a flask that contained enough oil to burn for eight days for the rededication ceremony of their desecrated temple in Jerusalem. Candles held in a menorah are lit for eight days, and jelly doughnuts (sufganiyot) and potato pancakes or latkes symbolically fried in oil served with toppings of applesauce and sour cream are part of the traditional celebration. Put a refreshing new spin on the old Chanukah menu with trendy dishes, including this diverse latkes line-up:
• A French twist combining golden Yukon potatoes with celery root, shallots and herbes de Provence, served with sour cream horseradish;
• A taste of Italy with polenta and fresh basil, complemented by marinara sauce;
• Shredded sweet potatoes with coconut milk and fresh ginger accompanied by curried Greek yogurt drizzle;
• Vegetarian patties of porcini mushrooms, Jerusalem artichokes, or toasted quinoa with peach or apricot chutney;
• A pescavore's paradise of wild-caught salmon patties with Meyer lemon mayo;
• Patriotic red, white and blue with redskin, russet and purple potatoes, served with all-American bbq sauce;
• The James Bond topped with crème fresh, chives and a dollop of caviar;
• A dessert version of pureed chestnuts, honey and cinnamon with a tower of vanilla bean whipped cream.
These can all be made with a healthier methodology by wrapping latkes in parchment paper and baking until crispy and golden.
To round out the Chanukah meal, try adding pulled roast chicken sliders, lamb kebobs with mint yogurt sauce, mini bagels with smoked salmon, capers and horseradish cream cheese, and Mediterranean eggplant caviar. For discriminating sweet tooths serve poached pears with goat cheese and honey drizzle, Meyer lemon bars with blackberry puree, and old-world apple strudel.
The cross-cultural Christmas latke (see recipe below) blends potatoes with a confetti of red and green peppers, smothered in cinnamon-spiced applesauce and is sure to please all.
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•••• Recipe: Christmas Confetti Potato Latkes
• 3 large Russet potatoes, peeled, diced
• 1/2 sweet onion, diced
• 1/2 each green and red pepper, diced
• 2 jumbo eggs
• 2 tablespoons unbleached flour
• 2 teaspoons Meyer lemon juice
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• High smoke point oil for frying (grapeseed, canola, sunflower, avocado)
In a food processor, grate potatoes to desired consistency. Strain through a fine sieve or squeeze with hands to remove excess water. In a large mixing bowl, blend potatoes with remaining ingredients. Heat skillet on medium with a thin layer of oil. Gently drop large spoonfuls of potato mixture into oil. Cook 4 minutes or until the edges are crispy. Flip and cook until golden. Drain on a cookie sheet/paper towels. Enjoy with favorite toppings.