Story and Recipes by Jodi Anderson
Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday that lands somewhere between November 28th and December 26th. Jews follow a lunar calendar instead of the common solar calendar, so the date changes every year. Because of its proximity to Christmas, the holiday has grown in popularity and importance with gift-giving (a more American tradition), games, songs, and, of course, food.
Like Christmas, Hanukkah celebrates a miracle. In the second century BCE, the Greeks were unhappy with the Jews’ imbuement of spirituality in their holy book the Torah (as opposed to simple intellectual studying of the text), and they attacked the Jews. A small army of Jews called the Maccabees fought back against the much larger Greek force. They won, but not before the Greeks entered their sacred temple, defiling all but one small jug of oil with which to light the menorah. The oil would last only one day, and it would take eight days to produce more sacred oil to light the candelabra. The miracle, attributed to G-d (how Jews spell God, because His name is too sacred to speak), was that the oil lasted eight days.
The traditional menorah consists of nine candles. The shamash, or attendant candle, is the candle in the middle. This is lit first and is used to light the other candles, one additional candle for each night of the eight-day holiday, until all eight candles are lit. Often, each family member lights their own menorah. The family menorah is placed in the window for passers-by to see.
Oil, A Sacred Ingredient
The reverence towards oil permeates the holiday, even as far as the food. The family meal is filled with fried and deep-fried foods. Jews from Europe brought their traditions to Israel. Latkes originated in Poland. These are pancakes made with shredded potatoes, a small amount of flour, and egg. They are traditionally served with a side of applesauce and sour cream. Originating in Germany, sufganiyot are deep-fried doughnuts usually filled with strawberry jelly. (This is a more recent development, as sugar did not become cheap and obtainable until the 18th century.)
Originating in Germany, sufganiyot are deep-fried doughnuts usually filled with strawberry jelly.
Dishes made with dairy, especially cheese, also figure heavily into traditional meals, due to an apocryphal story about Yehudit (or Judith). During the siege in which the eight-day miracle took place, the townspeople were thirsty and starving and threatened to surrender to the Syrian-Greek army. Uzziah, the commander of the defense forces, begged them to give him five more days, and the townspeople grudgingly agreed. Yehudit scorned his strategy of delay and offered her services as a spy. She and her maid gained the trust of the enemy general. Eventually, they were allowed to wander the camp unimpeded. One night, she brought wine and goat cheese to the general’s tent, which he consumed until he passed out. Yehudit chopped off his head with a sword and took it to Uzziah. At the sight of their general’s severed head, the Syrian-Greek army panicked and fled.
In honor of Yehudit’s heroics, Jews eat cheesy dishes, such as kugel, blintzes, cheesecake, and rugelach. Before latkes were made of potatoes, they were actually made with cheese. Potato latkes came about in the 19th century when Jews moved into Europe and began cooking with chicken fat, or schmaltz. (Hebrew law forbids the mixing of dairy and meat, so cheese could not be eaten with chicken.)
The Dreidel and Its Celebratory Foods
The most popular game during Hanukkah is a gambling game played with a dreidel, a four-sided top that is spun on its pointy end. Each side contains a Hebrew letter. The letter that comes up when the dreidel tips over determines whether the player wins, loses, or gets to keep their “money.” Foil covered chocolate coins called “gelt” stand in for money. If the letter nun—the first letter in “nes,” meaning miracle — comes up, the player neither lost nor gains gelt. If the letter gimel, the first letter for “gadol” — or great — turns up, the player wins everything. The letter hay stands for “haya,” meaning was, and the player who gets this letter wins half of the pot. The player who turns up the letter shin, which stands for “sham”—meaning there — loses everything.
Foods often celebrate the importance of the dreidel in the festivities. Sugar cookies in the shape of dreidels are iced, much like sugar and gingerbread cookies for Christmas. Cakes are cut in the shape of dreidels. Some cakes will have a hidden dreidel, which is revealed when the cake is cut. Cubes of cheese are customary party foods, but can be shaped as a dreidel and impaled with a pretzel stick, rather than a toothpick. An ambitious cook can cut fruits and vegetables in the shape of a dreidel. Even dreidel-shaped ravioli and candy are available.
Delicious Dessert Alternatives
People who struggle with eating dairy and/or deep-fried foods have a hard time getting through the traditional Hanukkah meal. I also cannot eat those foods and wanted to provide an alternative to the deep-fried doughnuts served as dessert. These doughnuts are dairy-free and cooked in an air fryer. They are brushed with oil to keep with tradition and to lighten the bake. While you can still fill them with strawberry jelly, I provide a recipe for apple butter, inspired by the applesauce served with latkes and with a nod to the apples and honey traditionally eaten at Rosh Hashanah, the New Year holiday that precedes Hanukkah. If you are keeping kosher, make sure that all products are labeled with the kosher certified seal.
Dairy-free Sufganiyot in the Air Fryer with Slow-cooker Apple Butter with HoneyRecipe by Jodi Anderson
- 2 tsp. instant yeast
- ½ cup cashew milk
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. vanilla extract imitation is fine
- 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour divided
- 6 Tbsp. butter substitute room temperature (I recommend Earth Balance, soy free)
- olive oil for brushing
- powdered sugar for dusting
- 3 1/4 –1/2 lb soft apples such as Macintosh or Honeycrisp, peeled, cored, and cut into small chunks
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- ¼ cup local honey
- 2 Tbsp. maple syrup
- 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
- 1/8 tsp. ground cloves
- 1/8 tsp. salt
- 1 ½ tsp. vanilla
- In a small saucepan, heat cashew milk to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. In a stand mixer bowl, whisk together the instant yeast, cashew milk, and sugar. Stir until the sugar has dissolved.
- Add the eggs, salt, and vanilla and whisk until smooth.
- Add 2 cups of flour and combine with the whisk.
- Place the bowl in the stand mixer and attach the dough hook. Add the butter substitute 1 Tbsp. at a time, mixing on low until the butter substitute is fully incorporated.
- Gradually add the rest of the flour. Mix until the dough is combined and is shiny and soft.
- Put the bowl in a warm place, cover with a kitchen towel, and leave to rise for one hour.
- Roll out dough to about ½ inch thick. With a 2 ½ inch biscuit cutter, cut out rounds, twisting the cutter to release the rounds from the dough. You can roll out the dough one more time and cut more rounds, but do not overwork the dough. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the rounds on the sheet far enough apart to allow for them to rise. Cover with a kitchen towel, put in a place, and allow to rise for 30 minutes or until they have doubled in size.
- Oil the bottom of the air fryer with olive oil. Place 4-6 rounds in the fryer (depending on its size) and brush with more olive oil. Cook for 6-8 minutes, flipping the doughnuts halfway through. Place on cooling rack.
- Add all ingredients to the slow-cooker. Mix briefly with a wooden spoon. Cook on low for 10 hours.
- Using an immersion blender, blend the apple butter until smooth. Allow to cool.
- Using a piping bag and small round tip, pipe the apple butter into the center of the doughnut. Dust with powdered sugar.
- You can substitute any non-dairy milk of choice for the cashew milk.
- Use a variety of apples for a more complex flavor. I used half Macintosh and half honeycrisp apples.
- If you do not have an immersion blender, you can use a blender, but stop and take off the lid a couple of times to release the steam.
- Double the apple butter recipe and save some for later to spread on toast, biscuits, or pancakes. It will stay good in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.