◊ Deep Fried Judaism

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Dear mom,

I just ate the best sufganiya (donut) of my life. It was warm… crisp and golden on the outside and doughy on the inside… filled with salty caramel cream. My Chanukah in Israel has been full of lights, songs, sticky fingers and young faces dusted in sugar. I love that my religion commands the indulgence of deep-fried sugary foods as a mitzvah.

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I’ve eaten pistachio, raspberry, chocolate, strawberry and dulce de leche donuts… cauliflower, beet, sweet potato, corn, spinach and zucchini latkes.

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I’m only trying to make up for years of underestimating the spiritual significance of fried foods. Back home I was told that Chanukah isn’t a big deal… that Americans overemphasize the celebration only to compete with the Christmas spirit around us. But Chanukah (and its donuts) are fo’serious in Israel. I swear the air smells like a deep-fryer.

Rambam says: “We already have an established custom to make sufganiyot (doughnuts) which are sweet baked goods and this custom is an ancient one of our fathers since these foods are boiled in oil, to commemorate the miracle that occurred to that flask of oil.”

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We conquered the Greeks and kept our tradition burning. This greasy goodness is important to the Jewish people, I repeat as I indulge in just one more jelly-filled donut.

Of equal importance to donuts are the lights. Menorahs in glass boxes attached to walls, stacked on top of ledges and and displayed on plastic chairs illuminate dark alleys throughout Jerusalem. Wicks fueled with olive oil glow like America’s lit-up reindeer with added holiness. Children and families gather around the light to sing, pray and dance. Chanukah streets are romantic.

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But today is the last day of Chanukah and my gut-spirit is finished. Our cousin, Tan, made the best, most fresh-tasting cold rice salad a few weeks ago.  I snagged the recipe from her and made it along with layered sweet potato and beet purees for a Thanksgivukah meal I shared with friends. I’m just thankful that both of these dishes are post-Chanukah cleanse appropriate … I’m craving veggies after 8 holy days of saturated fats. At least in Israel I’ll avoid the Christmas cookie spell that invades American offices and schools at this time of year, Baruch Hashem.

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Hope your Chanukah was special too! xo,

Shaina

Ps. See some of my favorite menorahs below the recipes

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Zesty Herbed Rice Salad

Prep time: 35 minutes

Serves: 5 – 7

  • 2 cups colorful rice (I used red – or purple- in this recipe. You can also use brown)
  • 3/4 cup raw fennel (or celery if you’re on a budget), finely chopped
  • 2 large green onion bulbs, finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup fresh mint, finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds
  • juice and zest of 3 large lemons
  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt (more if needed)
  • plenty of good black pepper
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins

Combine rice with 2 1/2 cups of water bring to boil over high heat. Then, reduce heat and let simmer for 20 – 25 minutes. Once cooked, allow to cool (you may want to prepare it a day before serving to allow plenty of time to cool).

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Meanwhile, toast slivered almonds in a toaster oven or skillet until golden brown and fragrant and set aside. Then, finely chop fennel, green onion, mint and parsley and set aside.  Mix olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon juice and lemon zest and set aside.

Right before serving (and once rice has reached room temperature or cooler), mix oil and lemon, herbs and fennel, almonds and raisins into rice. Garnish with any additional herbs, almonds, or sprinkle of lemon zest. Enjoy cold.

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Nutty Sweet Potato and Beet Layers

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Prep time: 1 hour
Serves: 10 - 20 people as a side

IMG_1039Sweet Potato Layer:

  • 1 scant tsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • dash of cayenne powder (to taste)
  • 5 large sweet potatoes, boiled and peeled
  • juice and zest of one orange
  • 4 tbs crude tahini
  • 1 tsp salt (or more)

Beet Layer:

(similar to the beet puree I posted here, but less walnuts and more olive oil)

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  • 4 largebeet, roasted and peeled
  • black pepper
  • salt
  • juice and zest of one lemon
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 3 tbs olive oil

For garnish:

  • pumpkin seeds
  • chopped parsely
  • drizzle of olive oil

First make the beet layer (it’s messier). Combine all ingredients in food processor and puree until smooth.

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Add more olive oil as needed. Set aside.

For the sweet potato layer, heat spices in olive oil over low heat until fragrant. Then, combine all ingredients and mash with the back of a large fork until smooth. It’s okay for chunks to remain.

When you’re ready to serve, spread a thick layer of sweet potato puree on a serving dish. Top with an equally thick layer of the beet puree. Garnish with pumpkin seeds, chopped parsley and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve with pita chips, crackers or thinly sliced apples. Eat leftovers next to yogurt for breakfast… everyone will be impressed.

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Some lights around town:

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