The word Hanukkah, in Hebrew, means dedication. And indeed the holiday, also referred to as the Festival of Lights, which falls out on December 21 this year, commemorates the secular festival of Hanukkah to celebrate the re-dedication of the temple. Forced to abandon their faith in the time of Alexander the Great, Yehuda Macabee and his brothers led the Jewish people in a revolt, which lasted for three years and was ultimately successful. After their military victory, the Macabees entered the temple and found it defiled and desecrated with only enough oil to burn for one day. Miraculously the oil burned for 8 days giving the Macabees time to repair. No doubt the oil used for the lamps was oil from the olive tree. Burned in earthenware lamps, olive oil provided the most convenient source of light. Through the ages lighting the Menorah (candelabrum) symbolized the courage of the people and the miracle of light performed at the temple.
While Hanukkah is considered a minor holiday with few religious rituals other than lighting the Menorah for eight consecutive days, it is also associated with the subject of oil. Typically potato pancakes – latkes – are prepared during the eight-day period and it would be difficult to imagine Hanukkah without them. Yet it isn’t about the potatoes, it is about the oil. Never the less all manner of fritters may be prepared for Hanukkah.
For a take on the traditional pancakes combine a mixture of carrots, sweet potato and yellow bell peppers for a delicious vegetable pancake with a sweet edge. If you’re not looking to prepare dozens of latkes, parsnip cakes for four, makes a delectable simple supper served with a salad. Happy Hanukkah!
Any root vegetable suitable for mashing such as carrots, celery root or turnips, can be used for this recipe, either on their own or in combination. A variety of spices and herbs can also be added.
1 pound parsnips
6 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Several grinds fresh nutmeg
1 egg, beaten
1/3 to 1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs, preferably your own
Vegetable oil for frying
Kosher salt and pepper
1. Peel parsnips and cut into 1-inch chunks. Cook in boiling salted water until tender, about 16 to 18 minutes. Drain and put in a food mill over a bowl and puree. Add flour, butter and nutmeg and season to taste with salt and pepper. With a large wooden spoon stir mixture well until ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.
2. Divide mixture into 4 equal pieces and mold each piece into a round flat cake, about 3 1/4 inches in diameter and 1/2 to 3/4 inches deep. Dip each one into beaten egg; then into breadcrumbs, pressing well for an even coating on both sides. Arrange cakes on a plate, one layer deep, loosely cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour or longer to firm.
3. Bring cakes to room temperature. Heat about 1 to 1 1/2-inches of oil in a cast iron or heavy skillet and sauté cakes for 3 to 4 minutes on each side until cooked through and golden brown. Drain on paper towels and serve as a light supper with a salad or as an accompanying vegetable.
SWEET POTATO, CARROT AND YELLOW PEPPER LATKES
The food processor makes easy work of this twist of the traditional potato pancake.
Makes 10-12 pancakes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow or red bell pepper, trimmed, deseeded and diced
2 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 to 3 carrots, peeled
1 large sweet potato, peeled
3 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup matzo meal
1/3 cup water
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper
Canola or vegetable oil for frying
1. Warm oil in a non-stick skillet and sauté bell pepper with scallions, until pepper is tender. Transfer to a side dish.
2. Place shredding blade in work bowl of a food processor. Cut carrots in lengths to fit the tube in the cover of the processor and process to shred. Cut potato in lengths and process as above. Transfer mixture to a large bowl. Add beaten eggs, matzo meal, water and salt and pepper to taste. Add bell pepper and scallions and stir to mix.
3. Add oil to a depth of 1/4-inch in a large heavy skillet. (I use a 12-inch Calphalon or cast iron skillet for even heat distribution.) Oil should be about 365 degrees or until the surface of the oil barely waves. Never allow the oil to come to a surface bubble. With a large oval spoon, drop vegetable mixture into the hot oil and flatten lightly with the back of a spoon. Cook for 2 minutes on each side until golden brown. Transfer to a paper towel- lined cookie sheet to drain. Latkes may be prepared ahead and kept warm in a 200-degree oven.