The Shiksa's Guide to Hanukkah

hanukkah recipesTonight we kick off the first night of the Festival of Lights, which means, as a non-Jewish lady married to a chosen man, I'm not totally clear on the meaning of the holiday.

I know there's a revolution led by the Maccabees, a temple dedication, and some amazing long-lasting oil. I just have trouble putting that all together into one holiday, even as I'm super psyched to get my Hanukkah on. Because -- not unlike Christmas -- Hanukkah is really all about the food.

So allow me to translate the best recipes for a Hanukkah feast into language a shiksa can understand with these tantalizing translations of the traditional (why these foods? I have no idea) brisket, latkes, challah, and kugel.


From Taste of Home's new cookbook with tons of family-friendly recipes, I plucked these very shiksa-esque versions of brisket and potato pancakes (aka latkes). I doubt mop sauce is on your Jewish mother-in-law's menu, but it will be on yours.

Also, just add apple sauce and sour cream to turn the old-fashioned potato pancakes into latkes.

Beef Brisket With Mop Sauce Recipe

What You'll Need:

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup dark corn syrup
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons prepared mustard
  • 1 fresh beef brisket (3 pounds)

1. In a large saucepan, combine the first seven ingredients. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat; simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat.

2. Place the brisket in a shallow roasting pan; pour sauce over the top. Cover and bake at 350° for 2 to 2 1/2 hours or until meat is tender. Let stand for 5 minutes. Thinly slice meat across the grain. 

Yield: 10-12 servings.

Old-Fashioned Potato Pancakes Recipe

Also from the third edition of Taste of Home's cookbook is this easy breezy recipe for potato pancakes -- just like my Christian mom used to make.

What You'll Need:

  • 3 cups shredded peeled potatoes
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup grated onion
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper

1. Rinse potatoes in cold water; drain thoroughly. In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, eggs, onion, flour, parsley, salt, and pepper.

2. Pour batter by 1/3 cupfuls onto a well-greased hot griddle. Fry in batches 5-6 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. 

Yield: 7-9 pancakes.

Everybody, Challah!

I find it challenging to make any bread that isn't that no-knead super easy kind, but it turns out Rebecca at Cooking With My Kid also has a no-knead challah recipe. While this scares the shiksa in me (it rises -- twice!), the steps are simple enough to follow. Plus, major bragging rights if this turns out well.

No-Knead Challah Recipe
from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois 

What you'll Need:

  • 1 3/4 cups lukewarm water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast (2 packets)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted (or neutral-tasting vegetable oil such as canola), plus more for greasing the cookie sheet
  • 7 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon of water)
  • Poppy or sesame seeds for the top

1. Mixing and storing the dough: Mix the yeast, salt, eggs, honey, and melted butter (or oil) with the water in a 5-quart bowl, or a lidded (no airtight) food container.

2. Mix in the flour without kneading, using a spoon, a 14-cup capacity food processor (with dough attachment), or a heavy-duty stand mixer (with dough hook). If you’re not using a machine, you may need to use wet hands to incorporate the last bit of flour.

3. Cover (not airtight), and allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses (or flattens on top), approximately 2 hours.

4. The dough can be used immediately after the initial rise, though it is easier to handle when cold. Refrigerate in a lidded (not airtight) container and use over the next 5 days. Beyond 5 days, freeze in 1-pound portions in an airtight container for up to 4 weeks. Defrost frozen dough overnight in the refrigerator before using. Then allow the usual rest and rise time.

5. On baking day, butter or grease a cookie sheet or line with parchment paper, or a silicone mat. Dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit-size) piece. Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go.

6. Divide the ball into thirds, using a dough scraper or knife. Roll the balls between your hands (or on a board), stretching, to form each into a long, thin rope. If the dough resists shaping, let it rest for 5 minutes and try again. Braid the ropes, starting from the center and working to one end. Turn the loaf over, rotate it, and braid from the center out to the remaining end. This produces a loaf with a more uniform thickness than when braided from end to end.

7. Allow the bread to rest and rise on the prepared cookie sheet for 1 hour and 20 minutes (or just 40 minutes if you’re using fresh, unrefrigerated dough).

8. Twenty minutes before baking time, preheat the oven to 350-degrees F. If you’re not using a stone in the oven, 5 minutes is adequate. Brush the loaf with egg wash and sprinkle with the seeds.

9. Bake near the center of the oven for about 25 minutes. Smaller or larger loaves will require adjustments in baking time. The challah is done when golden brown, and the braids near the center of the loaf offer resistance to pressure. Due to the fat in the dough, challah will not form a hard, crackling crust.

10. Allow to cool before slicing or eating. Makes 4 loaves.

Easiest Noodle Kugel

After all that bread-making, you're going to have to take a shortcut on the kugel. There are a million different kinds of kugel, but you just need to produce one. I took the raisins out of this recipe because a) I'm not a kugel traditionalist, and b) everyone in my family hates raisins. But feel free to toss them in if you want to look authentic. You'll need 1 cup of dark raisins if you swing that way.

What You'll Need:

  • 8 ounces wide egg noodles
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, cooled
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 3 cups cornflakes, coarsely crushed
  • 1/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 13 x 9 x 2-inch glass baking dish. Spread uncooked noodles over bottom of prepared dish (if using raisins, sprinkle with raisins). Whisk eggs, sour cream, butter, and sugar in large bowl until smooth. Whisk in milk and pour mixture over noodles. Let kugel stand 5 minutes.

2. Mix cornflakes and brown sugar in bowl; sprinkle evenly over kugel.

3. Bake kugel until set in center, about 1 hour. Cut kugel into squares. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Happy Hanukkah!

Image via Taste of Home


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