Chanukah brings out the oil and the good cheer


By Ethel G. Hofman

Ah, Chanukah — the holiday when we eat fried foods to commemorate the miracle of the oil.

The eight-day “Festival of Lights,” which begins on the eve of Sunday, Dec. 18 and ends on the evening of Dec. 26 (always starting on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev), celebrates the victory of Judah the Maccabee and his four brothers over the Syrian-Greeks in 165 BCE. Today, Chanukah represents a triumph of light over darkness — a time to show Jewish pride. We light the menorah, spin the dreidel and feast on delicacies fried in oil.

Growing up on the remote Shetland Islands, on the first night of the holiday, we dined on battered fish, usually fresh cod, along with chips — thick, hand-cut potato sticks (more like jumbo French fries) cooked up in oil. On following nights, we ate traditional Eastern European fare: potato latkes, blintzes, kugels and hot doughnuts dredged in confectioners’ sugar with a side dish of homemade rhubarb jam.

To deep-fry items, use a frying basket that fits into the pot and allows you to remove food from the hot oil without the use of utensils; it’s safer and less messy. For accurate temperatures, it’s best to invest in a glass, deep-fry candy thermometer (about $10). If you don’t have a thermometer, test the oil by dropping a 1-inch square of bread into it. If it takes 60 seconds to brown, then the oil is ready. Or test the oil with the stick end of a wooden spoon; it’s ready when bubbles form around the stick. If bubbling hard, however, the oil is too hot and needs to cool a bit. The oil should never be smoking hot.

Beer-Battered Fish (Pareve)

Serves 6
Cook’s Tips:
*Substitute Old Bay seasoning for paprika.
*Leftovers may be reheated to crisp in an air fryer or 375-degree oven.

2 pounds tilapia filets cut in half lengthwise
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon each salt, freshly ground pepper and paprika
1 egg, lightly beaten
¾ cup beer
vegetable oil (or oil of choice) for frying

Pat tilapia dry with paper towels. Set aside.

Prepare batter: in a medium bowl, stir the flour, salt, pepper and paprika. Add the egg and beer; whisk to a smooth batter. Set aside.

Pour enough oil into a large heavy pot until about 2 to 3 inches deep. Heat oil to 375 degrees. Quickly dip tilapia into batter, then gently place in hot oil. Do not crowd. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes until tilapia is a nice golden brown.

Serve hot with hand-cut chips (recipe below).

Hand-Cut Chips

Serves 4-6
Cook’s Tips:
*Idaho/russet potatoes are best due to high starch and low moisture content.
*Soaking removes excess potato starch which prevents fries from sticking together and helps maximum crispness.
*Keep oil on back burner away from kids. Hot oil causes serious burns.

3 Idaho potatoes, scrubbed
vegetable oil (or oil of choice) for frying
kosher salt (optional)

Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise. Cut side down, cut into thick sticks.

Place sticks in a large bowl and cover with cold water. Soak for 2 to 3 hours or overnight in fridge. Drain well. Lay on a large baking sheet lined with paper towels. Pat dry.

In a large heavy pot, heat 2 inches oil over medium heat to 300 degrees.

Add the potatoes and cook 4 to 5 minutes to soften. Do not overcrowd. Remove and drain on paper towels. Turn up the heat. Oil should not be smoking hot.

Add the potatoes and cook for 3 to 4 minutes longer until the fries are golden and crisp.

Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Serve hot.

Crunchy Zucchini Sticks (Dairy)

Makes 24
Cook’s Tips:
*Bell peppers may be used instead of zucchini.
*No Panko? Process bread in food processor. Depending on thickness, 2 slices gives about ¾ cup.

3 medium zucchini
3 tablespoons vegetable oil (or oil of choice)
1 egg
¾ cup Panko
⅓ cup Parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp. dried parsley
1½ teaspoons freshly ground pepper

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

Line a baking sheet with foil. Spray with nonstick baking spray.

Trim zucchini ends. To cut into sticks; cut each zucchini in half, then cut each half in half lengthwise, then each quarter in half again (about 8 sticks from each zucchini). Set aside.

In a shallow dish, whisk together the oil and egg. In a separate shallow dish, mix the panko, cheese, parsley and pepper.

Dip zucchini sticks in the egg mixture, then in the panko mixture to coat completely. Place in a layer, not touching, on prepared baking sheet.

Bake in hot oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until crispy and golden-brown.

Serve with ketchup, marinara sauce or tartar sauce for dipping.

Chewy Flapjacks (Dairy)

Makes 24
Cook’s Tips:
*British flapjacks are prepared with rolled oats.
*To make pareve, substitute margarine for butter.
*Crumbled flapjacks can be sprinkled over fruit or ice-cream.

2 sticks (½ pound)
1 cup brown sugar, packed
5 tablespoons honey
3½ cups instant rolled oats

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Line an 8×8-inch baking dish with parchment paper or foil, extending an inch or so above the rim. Spray lightly with nonstick baking spray.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the sugar and honey; mix to blend well. Do not boil. Remove from heat. Stir in the oats, about 1 cup at time, mixing well.

Spoon into prepared dish, pressing down evenly with a wooden spoon.

Bake in hot oven 25 minutes. Flapjacks will be soft. Cool in dish 45 minutes to firm.

Cut into squares. Cool completely in fridge. When cooled, remove flapjacks from parchment paper.

Store in fridge in a tightly lidded container. Freezes well.

Ethel G. Hofman is a widely syndicated American Jewish food and travel columnist, author and culinary consultant.

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