By Ethel G. Hofman
Ah, Chanukah — the holiday when we eat fried foods to commemorate the miracle of the oil.
The eight-day “Festival of Lights,” which begins this year on the eve of Sunday, Dec. 18 and ends on the evening of Dec. 26 (always starting on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev), celebrates the victory of Judah the Maccabee and his four brothers over the Syrian-Greeks in 165 BCE. The Syrian-Greeks had forbidden Jews from practicing their religion while trying to impose the paganism of the Hellenistic world.
After the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was desecrated, there was only enough oil for one nightly lighting of the menorah. But the small amount of oil miraculously lasted for eight days. Today, Chanukah represents a triumph of light over darkness — a time to show Jewish pride. We light the menorah, spin the dreidel and feast on delicacies fried in oil.
Growing up on the remote Shetland Islands, on the first night of the holiday, we dined on battered fish, usually fresh cod, along with chips — thick, hand-cut potato sticks (more like jumbo French fries) cooked up in oil. On following nights, we ate traditional Eastern European fare: potato latkes, blintzes, kugels and fresh, hot doughnuts dredged in powdered sugar with a side dish of homemade rhubarb jam.
To deep-fry items, use a frying basket that fits into the pot and allows you to remove food from the hot oil without the use of utensils; it’s safer and less messy. For accurate temperatures, it’s best to invest in a glass, deep-fry candy thermometer (about $10).
If you don’t have a thermometer, test the oil by dropping a 1-inch square of bread into it. If it takes 60 seconds to brown, then the oil is ready. Or test the oil with the stick end of a wooden spoon; it’s ready when bubbles form around the stick. If bubbling hard, however, the oil is too hot and needs to cool a bit. The oil should never be smoking hot.
Beer-Battered Fish (Pareve)
*Substitute Old Bay seasoning for paprika.
*Leftovers may be reheated to crisp in an air fryer or 375-degree oven.
2 pounds tilapia fillets cut in half lengthwise
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon each salt, freshly ground pepper and paprika
1 egg, lightly beaten
¾ cup beer
Vegetable oil (or oil of choice) for frying
Pat the tilapia dry with paper towels. Set it aside.
Prepare the batter: In a medium bowl, stir the flour, salt, pepper and paprika. Add the egg and beer; whisk it to a smooth batter. Set it aside.
Pour enough oil into a large heavy pot until about 2 to 3 inches deep. Heat the oil to 375 degrees F. Quickly dip the tilapia into the batter, then gently place it in the hot oil. Do not crowd it. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes until the tilapia is a nice golden brown.
Serve the fish hot with hand-cut chips (recipe below).
Hand-Cut Chips (Pareve)
*Idaho/russet potatoes are the best due to high starch and low moisture content.
*Soaking removes excess potato starch, which prevents fries from sticking together and helps maximize crispness.
*Keep the oil on a back burner away from kids. Hot oil causes serious burns.
3 Idaho potatoes, scrubbed
Vegetable oil (or oil of choice)
Kosher salt (optional)
Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise. With the cut side down, cut them into thick sticks.
Place the sticks in a large bowl, and cover them with cold water. Soak them for 2 to 3 hours or overnight in the fridge. Drain well. Place them on a large baking sheet lined with paper towels. Pat dry.
In a large heavy pot, heat 2 inches of oil over medium heat to 300 degrees F.
Add the potatoes, and cook for 4 to 5 minutes to soften. Do not overcrowd. Remove and drain them on paper towels. Turn up the heat. The oil should not be smoking hot.
Add the potatoes, and cook them for 3 to 4 minutes longer until the fries are golden and crisp.
Drain the fries on paper towels. Sprinkle them lightly with salt. Serve hot.
Crunchy Zucchini Sticks (Dairy)
*Bell peppers may be used instead of zucchini.
*No panko? Process the bread in a food processor. Depending on thickness, 2 slices give about ¾ cup.
3 medium zucchini
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
(or oil of choice)
¾ cup panko
⅓ cup Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1½ teaspoons freshly ground pepper
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F.
Line a baking sheet with foil. Spray it with nonstick baking spray.
Trim the zucchini ends. To cut into sticks, cut each zucchini in half, then cut each half in half lengthwise, then each quarter in half again (about 8 sticks from each zucchini). Set aside.
In a shallow dish, whisk together the oil and egg. In a separate shallow dish, mix the panko, cheese, parsley and pepper.
Dip the zucchini sticks in the egg mixture, then in the panko mixture to coat completely.
Place them in a layer, not touching, on the prepared baking sheet.
Bake them in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until crispy and golden brown.
Serve with ketchup, marinara sauce or tartar sauce for dipping.
Chewy Flapjacks (Dairy)
*British flapjacks are prepared with rolled oats.
*To make the recipe pareve, substitute margarine for butter.
*Crumbled flapjacks can be sprinkled over fruit or ice cream.
2 sticks (½ pound)
1 cup brown sugar, packed
5 tablespoons honey
3½ cups instant rolled oats
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
Line an 8-inch-by-8-inch baking dish with parchment paper or foil, extending an inch or so above the rim. Spray it lightly with nonstick baking spray.
In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the sugar and honey; mix it to blend well. Do not boil it. Remove it from the heat. Stir in the oats, about 1 cup at a time, mixing well.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared dish, pressing down evenly with a wooden spoon.
Bake it in a preheated oven for 25 minutes. The flapjacks will be soft. Cool them in a dish for 45 minutes to firm.
Cut the flapjacks into squares. Cool them completely in the fridge. When cooled, remove the flapjacks from the parchment paper.
Store them in the fridge in a tightly lidded container. Flapjacks freeze well.
Ethel G. Hofman is a syndicated American Jewish food and travel columnist, author and culinary consultant.