’Tis the season when Christmas and the eight-day Chanukah hoopla merge. Chanukah, which begins on Dec. 22 this year, used to be a minor celebration in the Jewish line-up of holidays. Thanks to Christmas-envy among Jewish children (and adults) who are awe-struck by the bedecked trees and sparkling neighborhoods lit-up like a fairytale wonderland, Chanukah has been elevated to the holiday A-list. As for the food part, we’re fortunate to partake in the delights of both traditions that can be enjoyed during a joint celebration.
On the Chanukah table cholesterol is king to commemorate the miracle in ancient times when Judah Macabee found a flask containing enough oil to burn for eight days for the re-dedication ceremony of their desecrated temple in Jerusalem. Symbolic and scrumptious potato latkes or pancakes are fried in oil, then customarily topped with sour cream or applesauce.
As nearly 2,200 years have passed since the Macabee miracle, it’s time to dial up the latkes repertoire with more interesting versions, whether sweet, spicy, or savory, with a pop of color, and a dose of healthful herbs, fruits, and vegetables for an antioxidant oomph. For the cholesterol-conscious, latkes can be baked or prepared using the French method of cooking called en papillote — sealed in a parchment pouch to maintain the fresh flavors of the ingredients.
If you’re a traditionalist and prefer latkes fried, then choose oils with a high smoke point like grapeseed or avocado to prevent burning, and an acrid taste. For your Christmakah soiree whip up a batch of these attention-grabbing latkes:
• Ethnic themes. Try zippy international flavor combos like Asian ginger scallion, Italian sun-dried tomato, basil and mozzarella, curried carrot, Moroccan-style with lemon zest and ras el hanout (spice blend of turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, ginger, cayenne, nutmeg), or the French way with celery root, chervil and shallots.
• Colors of the Rainbow. Ruby or golden beets, purple Peruvian potatoes, garnet yams, or zucchini give vibrant eye candy.
• Superfoods. Add crucifers of all manners, whether cauliflower, broccoli, kale, or Brussels sprouts for an anti-cancer, nutritional boost.
• Potato-less. Low carb options like quinoa, wild-caught salmon, firm white fish, or Portobello mushrooms make great potato alternatives.
• Jay Gatsby’s pick. During the holidays live a little with a decadent dollop of caviar and crème fraiche, or whipped cream cheese, slivers of smoked salmon and caper berries atop of mini latkes rounds.
• Divine Desserts. Made with apples and cinnamon, super dark chocolate and egg whites, or pears with ginger and hibiscus.
Add a topping bar to the table with chunky spiced apple sauce, apricot chutney, wild blueberry or caramel syrup, Greek yogurt, vanilla bean whipped cream, horseradish, and zesty lemon aioli.
Now blend the spirit of Christmas into the mix. Whether you celebrate Noel or not, you can’t help but become intoxicated by everything from eggnog to Yule log, and indulgences in between. Christmas spices boldly march out of the pantry like cloves, nutmeg, allspice, peppermint, cinnamon and ginger. Divine desserts loaded with sugar and spice, fats and other vices fly off the calorie chart and glycemic index, some so dense they could double as weight-training devices — tipsy fruitcakes, marzipans, plum puddings, mincemeat pies, gingerbread houses, and imports, such as panettones, stollens, and pavlova wreaths.
Celebratory centerpieces of exotic fowls, including goose, duckling, capon and pheasant, stuffed with chestnuts, sausages or pine nuts and wild rice, herb-crusted rack of lamb, whole grilled branzino fish with Meyer lemon and white wine, or mouth-watering lobster tails make jaws drop. All nicely washed down with cocktails and mocktails that scream Christmas cheer — from a ginger pomegranate spritzer to a mistletoe martini with melon liquor, coconut rum and pineapple juice.
Recipe: Purple Sweet Potato Latkes
• Ingredients: 4 large purple sweet potatoes; 2 eggs; 1/2 teaspoon salt; 2 tablespoons flour; 1 teaspoon brown sugar or honey; 2 tablespoons raisins; 2 tablespoons chopped dates; 1/3 cup chopped pecans or walnuts; grapeseed or avocado oil.
• Method: Peel roots, and grate coarsely by hand or in food processor. Drain and transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add eggs, salt, flour, sugar, salt and blend well. Gently fold in nuts, dates, raisins.
In a heavy skillet, heat 1/8- to 1/4-inch of oil. Using a ladle, spoon mixture into hot oil. Fry for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Drain with paper towels. Serve with topping of choice.
Recipe: Christmas Cosmopolitan
• Ingredients: 2 ounces cranberry juice; 1 ounce fresh lime juice; 4 ounces vodka; 2 ounces ginger beer; frozen cranberries; rosemary sprigs.
• Method: Half fill a shaker with ice, then add remaining ingredients. Shake vigorously until well blended. Strain into chilled cocktail glasses. Garnish with berries and rosemary. (Makes 2 drinks.) Cheers!
— Catharine Kaufman can be reached by e-mail: email@example.com and see more recipes at freerangeclub.com