Festival of lights

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 21, 2000

More than 2,300 years ago in the land of Judea, which is now Israel, the Syrian king, Antiochus, ordered the Jewish people to reject their God, their customs and their beliefs and worship the Greek gods.

While many gave in to the demands, a large number of Jewish people refused to desert their religion. Among this group was a man named Judah Maccabee.

He and his four brothers formed an army and named it the Maccabees, which means hammer. Finally at the end of three years the army ran the Syrians out of Israel and reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem. They worked diligently to clean the building and remove the Greek symbols and statues from the Temple.

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At the end of the cleansing Judah and his followers prepared to light the N’er Tamid or the eternal light. It is present in every Jewish house of worship, and this oil lamp should never be extinguished once lit.

To the Maccabees’ dismay only a tiny jug of oil was on hand, and it contained only enough oil for one day. They went ahead and filled the lamp and lit it. Then to their amazement, a miracle occurred and the oil remained lit for not one day but eight.

Jewish people all over the world celebrate Hanukkah (which means rededication) to mark the Maccabees’ victory over the Syrians and the rededication of the Jerusalem Temple. Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights, lasts for eight days to commemorate the miracle of the oil.

Hanukkah begins on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev and lasts for eight days. This year Hanukkah begins Friday; however, true observance begins at sunset on Thursday.

Food plays a large part in this celebration. Many Jewish families meet and celebrate each of the eight nights, sharing in the lighting of the menorah and a meal.

One dish that is usually associated with Hanukkah is latkes. These potato pancakes are fried in oil and usually served with applesauce, although there is a strong contingency that advocates serving them with sour cream. The use of oil is in recognition of the miracle of the tiny amount of oil that lasted eight days instead of one.


2 1/2 pounds baking potatoes, unpeeled

1 large yellow onion, quartered

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1/4 cup matzoh meal or plain flour

4 to 5 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 to 3 cups olive oil or vegetable oil

16-ounce jar of unsweetened applesauce

Scrub the potatoes. Quarter the onion and place in the bowl of a food processor and mince. You can do this by hand if needed. Next you need to shred the potatoes. This can be done by hand with a grater or with the medium-coarse disk of your food processor. You want to have your potatoes in shreds; do not over process or you will have mashed potatoes. When the potatoes are shredded, place them in a colander over a large bowl. Dump in the onion and mix everything with you hands, squeezing out the moisture as you mix. Let the mixture drip for a few minutes.

Place the potato and onion mixture in a large bowl and add the eggs, matzoh or flour, parsley, and seasonings. Mix well and then let it set for 10 minutes.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add 1/4 inch of the olive oil. When the oil is very hot, use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to scoop up the potato mixture and place in the hot oil. Immediately use a spatula to flatten each one to a diameter of 4 to 5 inches. Reduce the heat to medium and cook the latkes until golden brown on one side. Then turn over and fry on the other side. When golden brown and crispy on both sides, remove from the oil and place on paper-towel-lined serving plate. Continue this process until all the batter is used. Keep the latkes warm and serve as soon as possible with the applesauce.

If you really want something delicious to serve with your latkes, try this recipe for homemade applesauce. The chunky, fresh texture is incredible.

Chunky Applesauce

2 pounds granny smith apples, cored, peeled, sliced

2 pounds golden delicious apples, cored, peeled, sliced

2 cups water

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup white sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

Combine the apples, water and lemon juice in a large pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, cover and simmer until apples are tender, about 20 minutes. Uncover and cook until mixture is thick, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes longer.

Mash apples slightly with a potato masher until chunky. Stir in sugar and spices. Cool. Add more lemon juice if desired. Transfer to bowl, cover and chill overnight.

Beef Brisket with Carrots and Onions

1 large beef brisket, 4 to 6 pounds


3 tablespoons oil

8 medium-sized potatoes, cut into quartered

8 large carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces

4 large onions, quartered

2 cups red wine

2 to 3 cups beef broth

Salt and pepper to taste

Chopped fresh parsley

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Very lightly dust both sides of the brisket with the flour and set aside. Heat oil in a large skillet and brown the brisket in the hot oil. Remove the meat from the pan and place into an ovenproof roasting pan. Place the onions and garlic in the pan along with the meat. Add the wine and the broth so that the meat is covered about two thirds of the way by liquid.

Cover the pan and place in the oven for 30 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 275 degrees and allow the brisket to braise for about 1 1/2 hours. Then place the potatoes and the carrots in the roasting pan and replace the cover. Allow to continue to cook another 90 minutes or until the meat is fork tender. Allow the meat to rest for 15 to 20 minutes and slice thinly across the grain.

Hanukkah Poppy Seed Cookies

3 eggs

1 cup white sugar

3/4 cup oil

Juice and rind of one orange

4 cups of flour

1/4 cup poppy seeds

2 teaspoons baking powder


Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Beat eggs. Add sugar, oil, orange rind and juice. Stir in dry ingredients. Roll out thin and cut into desired shapes. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on wire racks.

Honey Cookies

Cookie ingredients

1 quart honey

2 cups sugar

1 pound pecans, coarsely chopped

1/2 pound dried oranges

or apricots

2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground cloves

2 teaspoons ground allspice

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 cup brandy

Juice and peel of one lemon

7 cups all purpose flour

Glaze ingredients

2 cups powdered sugar

4 to 6 tablespoons milk

Dash of lemon, orange

or almond extract

Coarsely grate the lemon peel, being sure not to include any of the white pith. In a large pot, boil the honey and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Measure the rest of the ingredients and mix into the honey sugar mixture. Cover and refrigerate for three days.

When ready to bake preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Divide the dough into thirds. Grease three rectangular cookie sheets. Press a third of the dough into each one. It should be 1/4 inch thick, and you should press within one inch of the sides. Bake each one on the middle rack of the oven for 20 to 22 minutes or until edges begin to brown and the center springs back from a light touch.

When you remove the pans from the oven, invert the cooked dough onto a cutting board and cut into 1-inch by 2-inch cookies.

Sift the powdered sugar for the glaze and add enough milk to make a glaze that you can drizzle. Add the flavoring. Drizzle the glaze over the cookies.