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Have A Delicious and Mindful Hanukkah
Jake Cohen, author of "Jew-Ish", shares his traditions (and a latke recipe) for the Festival of Lights
Hanukkah starts Sunday evening, with millions of people in the Jewish community celebrating the festival of lights. Many know that Hanukkah is marked by the lighting of the menorah, and gathering with loved ones to exchange gifts and eat latkes and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts), but its origin story is one of hope and pride.
The Jewish National Fund states that Hanukkah’s origins started in the second century BCE, when a small band of Jewish people, led by Judah the Maccabee, defeated the Seleucid army and took back the holy temple in Jerusalem. When that went to light the temple’s menorah, they found only enough oil to light it for one night. The menorah burned for eight nights, however, long enough for the Jewish people to procure more oil. To commemorate these events, the festival of Hanukkah was born.
Cohen, who wrote the book, Jew-Ish: A Cookbook: Reinvented Recipes from a Modern Mensch, says that, for him, Hanukkah is about identity and the right to exist. It’s also about giving back. “Doing a mitzvah (a good deed) is better than decorating a Hanukkah bush,” says the cookbook author, who works with City Harvest, an organization that helps feed millions of New Yorkers.
And, of course, there’s the food, which is steeped in tradition and meaning, including the most beloved of all Hanukkah dishes — the latke. “We make latkes because we’re celebrating the miracle of oil. We’re celebrating that miracles do exist. With food, we provide comfort with a side of hope.”
Cohen likes to add saffron to his latkes for a very special reason. “My husband is Persian, so I found a way to combine our cultures.” The author also lights the Hanukkah menorah each evening and plans to gather with family and friends.
Cohen adds that whatever holiday you celebrate this season, it should give you joy. “The holidays should make you feel recharged. It’s a time to think about what you’re grateful for, and to have hope for a better world in the coming year.”
Here’s Jake’s potato latke recipe (reprinted with permission from his book), so you can start your own traditions.
Perfect Potato Latkes
Yield: Makes about 10 latkes
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
1 pound russet potatoes, peeled
¼ medium yellow onion
¼ cup matzo meal, plus more as needed
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 large eggs
Vegetable oil, for frying
Applesauce, for serving
Sour cream, for serving
Using a box grater, coarsely grate the potatoes and onion. Transfer to a medium bowl lined with cheesecloth or a thin dish towel and wring the cloth to squeeze out any liquid into the bowl. Set the bowl of liquid aside to sit for 5 minutes. Put the squeezed potatoes and onion in another medium bowl, add the matzo meal, salt, and eggs, and mix until well incorporated.
Pour off and discard the reserved liquid from the first bowl, revealing a thin layer of white potato starch stuck to the bottom. Stir the potato starch into the potato mixture.
In a large cast-iron or nonstick skillet, heat ¼ inch of oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Line a plate with paper towels.
Working in batches, scoop 3 or 4 (⅓-cup) balls of the potato mixture into the pan, spacing them 2 inches apart. Using a spatula, smash each ball to flatten. Cook the latkes, flipping once, until golden, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to the paper towel–lined plate to drain. Repeat with the remain-ing potato mixture, adding more oil to the pan between batches as needed (be sure to let the oil get hot before continuing with the next batch).
Transfer the latkes to a platter and serve immediately with applesauce and sour cream.