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Hanukkah: Symbols in holiday food

A variety of Hannukah foods
A variety of Hannukah foods
December 23, 1997
Web posted at: 8:47 p.m. EST (0147 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, starts Tuesday, bringing with it the promise of a rich religious tradition -- and rich, delicious food.

Like Christmas, with its visions of sugar plums, Hanukkah brings visions of treats -- like latkes.

Latkes, potato pancakes topped with apple sauce or sour cream, are fried in oil, symbolizing how oil for just one day burned for eight days in the temple reclaimed by the Jews after the liberation of Jerusalem from the Greeks.

CNN's Eugenia Halsey reports
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"Anything with oil in it becomes significant," said Associate Rabbi Jonathan Biatch of Beth El Hebrew Congregation.

Joan Nathan, author of several classic Jewish cookbooks including "The Jewish Holiday Baker," is an expert on Hanukkah foods. She views them as more than just treats.

"When you bring out these old recipes, it's a wonderful way of binding to who you are, to where you came from," she said.

vxtreme Eugenia Halsey reports on special Hanukkah treats.

But, while she values tradition, Nathan is not averse to putting a new spin on Hanukkah foods. Her updated latke includes grated potatoes, zucchini, scallions, garlic, parsley and parmesan cheese. She subtracts most, but not all, of the amount of oil typically used.

"They're crispy and they're good and you don't get the sense of oil everywhere," Nathan said. "There's that flavor of oil, but you just don't have to saturate them."

Frying latkes
Potato latkes are fried in symbolic oil

Many non-European Jews don't eat potatoes, so they infuse other types of holiday food with oil.

Israelis, for example, dip dough in frying oil to make special jelly doughnuts, called "sufganiyot."

Another Hanukkah treat in Nathan's repertoire is a cranberry walnut tart created by a Chicago woman named Andra Karnofsy. It includes a filling made of cranberries, walnuts, corn syrup, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla and butter, which is poured into a pie crust and baked.

"She thinks that the red cranberries look like Hanukkah lights," Nathan said.

The result, says Nathan, is another treat that will delight both children and adults during the eight days of Hanukkah.

Correspondent Eugenia Halsey contributed to this report.


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