Sunday, December 27, 2009

Chanukah, Chanuka, Hanukkah, whatever

You may wonder about the title of this post, but it's just a little reminder that the name of the holiday is pronounced and spelled differently in English depending upon who is reading the Hebrew, and most people who cannot read Hebrew must rely upon English transliterations that are not written in stone.

The Hebrew looks like this
The first symbol/letter (read from right to left) is most often pronounced like the hard *ch* in the word *loch* as in Loch Lomond. Of course, many people find that sound difficult to say and instead will use a soft sound like the *h* in the word *hat*. The second syllable, is frequently mispronounced. It should be *noo*, not *nah*.
In the Hebrew you'll hear in Israel, the last vowel sound is usually pronounced like the *o* in the word *cod*. Yes, not like an *a*. But that's only one way of pronouncing that vowel sound. In Ashkenazic Hebrew, the vowel sound would be more like in the word *caw*. My grandmother whose first language was Yiddish, pronounced the holiday *Chanukeh*. Even in Yiddish, depending upon where you came from in Europe, the word might also be pronounced "Chanukey"!
No matter how you say it, or spell it in English, the most common meaning of the word is "dedication". This link is actually the best one I've found about the holiday. It gathers together in one place, just about anything you'd want to know about Chanukah and its traditions.
Still, for most of us, the food enjoyed at our different holiday celebrations are the things we remember the best.
The potato pancakes in the recipe below would have been gobbled up by the characters in my stories in Bend in the Road
Recipe ~ Latkes (European/Ashkenazic)
There are as many different latke (potato pancake) recipes as there are countries in Europe. The one constant is that the pancakes be fried as most traditional foods associated with Chanukah use oil in remembrance of the oil used in dedicating the Temple. Recipes using dairy products are also traditional -- but that's another story. (If you click on the holiday link above, you'll eventually find your way to the explanation for this custom.)
My grandmother never used a measuring cup or spoons, so each female in the family developed their own way of making latkes. Here's a quick and easy recipe.
2 lbs potatoes (any kind works)
2 large eggs
Salt to taste
About a 1/4 cup of flour to help bind the mixture
Heat the oven to about 300 degrees to keep the finished latkes hot.
Oil for frying (I use canola, but any vegetable oil works. If you want to use olive oil, the taste is different and you must be more careful of the temperature of the oil)
Peel and finely grate the potatoes. (BTW, I don't usually peel the potatoes, but scrub them very hard. More vitamins in the peel and I usually don't grate the potatoes that fine. My husband likes the potato bits chunky.) Put them straight into cold water, then drain and squeeze them as dry as you can by pressing them with your hands in a colander. This gets rid of the starchy liquid, which makes the latkes soggy.
Beat the eggs lightly with salt, add to the potatoes, and stir well. Add the flour a little at a time until the mixture clings together a bit. Cover the bottom of a non-stick frying pan with oil and heat. Take tablespoonfuls, or as much as 1/4 cup, of the mixture and drop into the hot oil. Flatten a little, and lower the heat so that the latkes cook through evenly. When one side is brown, turn over and brown the other. Do not crowd the pancakes. Lift out and place each batch on a cookie sheet and into the oven until all the pancakes are made. Serve very hot with sour cream for a dairy meal or with apple sauce for a meal with meat as the main course.
You may add black pepper, chopped parsley, and finely chopped onion to the egg and potato mixture. I usually add about a 1/4 cup onion to my latkes. You can also substitute sweet potatoes, carrots or a mixture of the different veggies. Experiment. It's fun.
Links to other recipes

Ceciarchiata Taiglach - The Jewish community in Italy has been present for a very long time. Jewish influences can still be found in traditional Italian cooking.
"Ceciarchiata means "chickpeas" or "little bits" in Italian. This festive taiglach is similar in nature to the French croquembouche, though it's a crown, not a mountain. It is a spectacular centerpiece with its clusters of dough and nuts, and is totally addictive."
Sufganiyot - Israeli jelly donuts. Although this is a Martha Stewart recipe, this is the easiest (and one of the best) ones I've found.
For unusual and delicious recipes and wonderful anecdotes about Jewish communities in far-away places and
far-away times, please check out these two books:

The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden ~

Cucina Ebraica by Joyce Goldstein ~

Happy holidays and Happy Chanukah or Hanukkuh or...