Reason to be Jewish #509

We Jewish people have holidays that are food-oriented. I’m not talking about a Christmas plum pudding or an Easter basket of candy here–I’m talking about multi-day holidays where you’re supposed to eat special and delicious types of food. Most folks have heard of Passover, which is an excuse to gorge yourself on matzo ball soup in the name of avoiding leavened bread (though matzo ball soup is good enough to eat year-round…but that’s another upcoming post.) We have a holiday when you’re supposed to eat dairy, when my mother would make blintzes and other people make things like cheesecake. Our fasting holiday has special foods for breaking the fast–noodle puddings, cured fish, and fruit…delicacies that don’t require any last-minute attention for the hungry host. We even have a holiday where you’re supposed to give gifts of food to at least two of your friends, and most folks bake special triangular cookies called hamentashen which they then give to you if you’re lucky.

And then there’s Hanukkah. It’s a minor holiday on the Jewish calendar, to be sure, but it’s eight days long…and you’re supposed to eat fried food to celebrate. Christmas sounds cool all right, but eight days of fried food? I’m already signed up, but don’t you wish you were as well?

In Sephardic homes, that food is usually sufganiyot, or little jelly donuts. I know Jewish people who go eat Krispy Kreme jelly donuts around this time of year because they’re not that different from classic sufganiyot. I personally never met a donut I didn’t like, but I don’t head for fried dough when Hanukkah rolls around.

The ne plus ultra of Jewish holiday foods is easily the potato latke, or potato pancake. It’s cheap, crispy, creamy, and thoroughly addictive. I keep mine simple: potatoes, salt, onions, matzo meal (ground-up matzos) and an egg yolk or two, fried in olive oil for authenticity. (Recipe to follow in next Wednesday’s Frederick News-Post.)

Latkes are best smothered in homemade applesauce and plenty of sour cream. They’re also best enjoyed with friends. I do not recommend inviting a dozen people over the first time you make latkes, though, because people eat them the second they come out of the pan. You’ll be at serious risk for spending the entire evening over a hot stove, which is only fun when you’re not trying to entertain a bunch of people at the same time. Fortunately, you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy latkes, but they’re one of the best things about being a Jew around this time of year.

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