Hanukkah: Symbols in holiday food
December 25, 1997
Web posted at: 7:29 p.m. EST (0029 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, started Tuesday night, 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, or potato pancakes, are fried in oil, symbolizing the miracle of Hanukkah. After ancient Jews reclaimed their temple in Jerusalem from the Greeks, one day's supply of oil -- used to rededicate the temple -- burned for eight days.
"Anything with oil in it becomes significant," said Associate Rabbi Jonathan Biatch of Beth El Hebrew Congregation.
Joan Nathan, author of several 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.
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.
A child reaches for sweet sufganiyot
"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."
Latkes are traditionally served with sour cream and apple sauce.
Other Hanukkah foods are also infused 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.