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Right now it’s the middle of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. It commemorates a time in Jewish history when a small group of Jewish soldiers, called the Maccabees, defeated a much larger Greek army. Following the miraculous battle, another miracle occurred in the Great Temple. At that time, extra-virgin olive oil was used to light the large candelabra, called the Menorah. The Temple had been ransacked, and most of the lamp oil was desecrated, but one small jar of pure oil was found, just enough to light the Menorah for one day. At that time, it took 8 days to get more oil, though it’s not clear if it was an 8 day process to make the oil or if there was a large supply a 4 day journey away.
Miraculously, the small amount of oil burned for 8 whole days, until more pure oil was obtained. To commemorate this miracle, Jews all over the world light 9 branched candelabras called Menorahs or Hanukkias, and eat foods fried in oil. Some use actual olive oil for the Hanukkah lights, but candles are much more common. My family has always used candles.
For generations, Jews of European descent have eaten potato pancakes, called latkes, for Hanukkah. Israeli Jews usually have jelly donuts instead. My shul serves both. Wheat AND potatoes- what more can an O nonnie ask for?
I limited myself to water and seltzer at my shul’s Hanukkah celebration, though I let my children eat whatever they wanted. They’re healthy enough to handle a few “avoids” occasionally. I’m still detoxing from Hurricane Sandy and can’t afford any “cheats” right now.
At home, I’ve created some new holiday traditions. Before I found BTD, but had identified my problems with gluten, I made gluten-free potato pancakes. I started with boiled potatoes, mashed them, added salt and onion powder and eggs, then fried in olive oil and served with apple sauce and sour cream. The traditional recipe calls for grated raw potatoes mixed with eggs and flour or matzah meal, but I found a way to make it without the added wheat.
Not being able to eat potatoes presents an added challenge. I’ve successfully substituted sweet potatoes in other recipes calling for potatoes, so I did the same with my latke recipe. Start with cooked sweet potatoes, add salt, onions, and eggs, and fry in olive oil. It didn’t hold together very well, though, as sweet potatoes are much less starchy than white potatoes. A little rice flour in the dough fixed that right up.
On Sunday, Leah wanted to make latkes but we didn’t have any cooked sweet potatoes in the house. Instead, she grated raw sweet potatoes and mixed them with eggs, spices, and rice flour before frying in oil. They took longer to cook, but came out delicious! Monday I baked sweet potatoes to make latkes with my usual recipe, and found that they weren’t as good. It’s more work to grate them than it is to mash up cooked sweet potatoes, but I think it’s worth the effort. I plan to use the grated raw recipe for the rest of the week.
Another problem with traditional latkes is the applesauce served alongside. I buy unsweetened applesauce for my family, but O nonnies shouldn’t have apples. Last year I bought a jar of pear baby food to eat with my latkes, and it was delicious! This year, I wanted to stay away from the ascorbic acid added to jarred baby food, since I can’t guarantee that it’s corn-free. So I bought two large bags of pears: one for eating and one for cooking. I peeled and chopped the pears, then put them in my crock pot with a little water. I cooked them on “low” overnight, added a little nutmeg, and then blended with my stick blender before putting them in a jar in the fridge. I think this batch came out a little bit too runny; I think I’ll use less water the next time I make this. But overall the recipe is a winner- I’ll be making pear sauce for Hanukkah every year from now on.
I made sweet potato latkes on Saturday night for Chanukah too. I didn't have any fresh compliant flour so I just used grated sweet potatoes, a dash of cinnamon and seasalt, an egg and some arrowroot to hold them together. I didn't even bother with the onions. I fried them in a combo of EVOO and ghee - they were SO good. I also had some fresh cranberry sauce that I'd made with a little agave and some fresh pineapple chunks....really really good with the sweet potatoes.
I really enjoy you simple explanations Ruth.
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