Chanukah Heads East

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Holidays for a food aficionado can be a challenge. First and foremost, we want everything to be delicious. We also want it to honor traditions, but not be boring.

It’s a bit like that old saw about the film star’s fourth husband — he knows what is expected of him but isn’t sure how to make it stand out. This year, I plan to make some traditional dishes but will spice them up with an Eastern flair. Asian flavors have been calling my name of late, and these Eastern twists on classics have been popular in my house.

Bear in mind, these dishes are hearty and robust — served together they could compete and overwhelm. If you are planning a sit-down dinner for a family, my recommendation is to choose one of these as a “showpiece” and surround them with simpler dishes. Essentially, spread them out over the holiday as opposed to putting them on the same table.

However, if you are doing a buffet with lots of dishes, these can anchor the selection. Attending any type of potluck? These will shine.

Soy ginger-braised short ribs
Soy ginger-braised short ribs (Photo by Keri White)

Soy Ginger-Braised Short Ribs

Serves 4

I had this epiphany the other day about braised beef: Why does it seem to be that virtually all recipes for stews and brisket and short ribs use Western flavors — wine or beer, rosemary and thyme — or Mexican spices?

I love the tang of a soy ginger sauce, which I generally restrict to marinades and stir-fried dishes. But as winter descends and we crave warming stews and braises, why not try some Asian flavors? I did, and it was a success.

This can easily be converted to a brisket if that works better with your crowd. I used short ribs because I was only feeding two on this particular night and brisket provided more meat than we needed. The technique is the same, but you may wish to cook a brisket a bit longer to ensure tenderness.

  • 2 pounds boneless short ribs
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ¼ cup grated fresh ginger
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or more, to taste)
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1½ cups beef broth (or more, as needed)
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch or Wondra flour
  • Fresh chopped cilantro for serving

Heat your oven to 325 degrees.

Sprinkle the short ribs with kosher salt and set aside.

Heat the oil in an ovenproof pan or Dutch oven and add ginger, onion, garlic and red pepper and sauté until fragrant and softened, about 5 minutes.

Add the short ribs and sear on all sides, approximately 1 minute per side.

Add the soy sauce, vinegar and broth. The liquid should nearly cover the meat. If it is too shallow, add more beef broth or water.

Cover the pan and place it in the oven for 3 hours. When the ribs are fork-tender, remove them from the oven.

In a small measuring scoop, mix the cornstarch or Wondra with a third cup of braising liquid and return it to the pan, stirring well to thicken gravy.

Serve the short ribs over rice with a generous handful of chopped cilantro.

Curried Latkes

Serves 4

I know, I know, why mess with perfection? But if you are doing several different Chanukah events, you may crave some variety. I’ve used straightforward potatoes here, but you could certainly substitute sweet potatoes for a colorful and unique presentation.

This is a classic recipe made slightly exotic with the addition of curry powder. In keeping with the culinary theme, you can swap the traditional sour cream and apple sauce toppings for their Indian counterparts. Consider serving these with Indian chutney or pickle, and yogurt-based raita (recipe follows).

  • 1½ pounds potatoes
  • ½ medium onion
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon matzoh meal
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1½ teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 cup canola oil for frying

With a food processor or box grater, shred the potatoes. Place the potatoes in a kitchen towel and squeeze them to remove as much moisture as possible.

Shred the onions with a food processor or box grater and mix them with the potatoes in a large bowl.

Add the remaining ingredients except for oil.

In a large skillet, heat the oil until a bit of potato sizzles when dropped into the pan. Using a ¼-cup measure, scoop the latke batter and drop it gently into the oil. Fry for about 4 minutes per side until brown and crispy.

Drain the latkes on paper towels and enjoy.

Raita

Makes 2 cups

This cool, refreshing Indian sa

lad/sauce is a wonderful counterpoint to the hearty, heavy latkes. This can be done ahead of time or just before serving. It keeps several days in the refrigerator.

  • 2 cups plain yogurt
  • 1 cucumber, peeled and shredded
  • ½ cup cilantro, chopped
  • Juice of ½ lime
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Mix all ingredients in a medium-sized bowl.

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