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by Louise Fiszer

The twinkling candles in the menorah shed a lovely light on the elegantly set table. Children's faces are a study in joyful anticipation of nightly, small gifts. Aromas from the kitchen predict an especially appealing meal. This year, the first night of Hanukkah, one of the prettiest and most festive Jewish holidays is December 21, 2008.

Hanukkah is a time for family and friends to gather around the table to commemorate the rededication of the temple of Jerusalem by lighting a candle each of eight nights. Eating foods that are cooked in oil, such as the much beloved potato latke, is also very much a part of the celebration. This represents the small measure of oil the Jews had centuries ago when defending the Temple. Miraculously the oil lasted for eight days.

I've centered this menu around potato latkes, the culinary symbol of Hanukkah, and have tried to balance it with dishes that use little or no oil. This relieves one of some guilt in taking an extra plateful of the delicious latkes. Begin with a hearty bowl of Mushroom Barley Soup -- perfect for a chilly evening. Accompany the crispy latkes with a colorfully seasonal and healthy Spinach and Tangerine Salad. Let guests help themselves to toppings of tart apple sauce or sour cream for the latkes. Finish with an ethereal, low-fat almond ginger torte for the adults and Hanukkah cookie cut outs (dreidels, menorahs) for the kids.

Mushroom Barley Soup

2 tablespoons oil
1 onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
3/4 pound mushrooms, chopped
2 ounces dried mushrooms, soaked in hot water until soft and drained
1 cup pearl barley, rinsed
1 cup chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned)
6 cups chicken, beef or vegetable stock
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped dill
salt and pepper

Heat oil in a large pot. Cook onion, celery, and both mushrooms about eight minutes, or until very soft. Stir in barley and cook one minute. Add tomatoes and stock and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer 45 minutes or until barley is tender. Stir in parsley and dill. Taste for salt and pepper and serve.

Potato Latkes
makes about 16

1 1/2 pounds baking potatoes, peeled
1 medium onion, chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 to 1 cup vegetable oil for frying

Grate potatoes and place in strainer or colander. Squeeze out as much moisture from potatoes as you can. In large bowl, combine potatoes with remaining ingredients, except for oil. Heat about 1/4 cup oil in large frying pan until very hot. Drop two to three tablespoons potato mixture into pan for each latke. Use back of spoon to flatten mixture so that each latke is about three-inches in diameter. Fry over medium high heat about four to five minutes per side. Drain on paper towels and keep warm in oven. Continue, using more oil if necessary for each batch. Serve hot with an apple-pear sauce.

Ginger Torte
serves 12

3 cups finely chopped almonds
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 eggs, separated
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
grated zest of 1 large orange
2 tablespoons finely chopped candied ginger
powdered sugar for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Oil or spray a 10 inch tube pan. Combine nuts with 1/2 cup of the sugar, flour, ground ginger and salt. Beat egg yolks and 1/2 cup of the remaining sugar until thick and pale, about eight minutes. Stir in the orange juice, zest and candied ginger. Fold nut mixture into yolk mixture with a spatula. In a large bowl beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in remaining 1/2 cup of sugar. Fold whites into yolk batter and pour into prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Let cool in pan, then invert onto serving plate. Dust with powdered sugar.

Spinach and Tangerine Salad
serves 8 to 10

8 cups young spinach, torn into bite sized pieces
1 bunch green onions, sliced
4 seedless tangerines, peeled and separated into sections
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper

In large bowl combine spinach, onions, tangerines and cranberries. Whisk together oil and vinegar and toss with salad just before serving. Salt and pepper to taste.

Louise Fiszer is a San Francisco Bay Area freelance food writer and the co-author of several books including Jewish Holiday Feasts (The Artful Kitchen Collection), A Good Day for Soup and A Good Day for Salad. Each book was authored with Jeannette Ferrary.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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