This article is reprinted with permission of the JTS.
NEW YORK, Oct. 10 (JTA)–“I was searching for Hanukkah on my calendar and couldn’t find it in the month of December,” says Jennifer Felicia Abadi, author of A Fistful of Lentils: Syrian-Jewish Recipes from Grandma Fritzie’s Kitchen. Who could have guessed that this year Hanukkah starts in November–the day after Thankgiving?
“Can’t we spread these holidays out a bit, it’s not fair,” Abadi says.
This merging of secular and religious holidays leaves many Jewish families in a quandary. Should they skip Thanksgiving in favor of Hanukkah? Should they gather for celebrations two nights in a row? Because Thanksgiving comes first, will it overshadow the Festival of Lights? Because the first night of Hanukkah falls on a Shabbat, Sabbath, doesn’t it deserve special attention?
“How do you juggle three holidays?” Abadi asks. “Is it possible to be the perfect American Jewish pilgrim?”
Jayne Cohen, author of The Gefilte Variations has no qualms about acknowledging both Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, even though they dovetail, because she sees parallels between them. “Besides the fact that they are home-centered holidays, they share a spiritual connection, too,” she says. The theme of both holidays revolves around deliverance from religious persecution. At Hanukkah, we recall Jewish resistance to Hellinzation after the Greeks attempted to crush our rituals and beliefs. At Thanksgiving, we pay homage to the pilgrims who fled England seeking a safe place to worship as they pleased.
Cohen explains that Thanksgiving resonates with many Jews because America welcomed people of all faiths. This country was founded on religious freedom, so often denied throughout history to Jews in other lands.
Still, the holidays’ close proximity poses logistical problems. Many Jews may wonder if it’s respectful to celebrate this special Hanukkah Shabbat with their homes overflowing with pumpkins and rust-colored chrysanthemums. Then there’s the issue of Thanksgiving leftovers likely to be stuffing refrigerators. Should they be removed in favor of Hanukkah fare?
Ironically there are many dishes from the canon of Jewish cuisine that call for the harvest foods associated with Thanksgiving dinner. If you didn’t know better, you’d think these recipes were culled from November issues of gourmet cooking magazines. They represent both Sephardi and Ashkenazi tradition. Including them on Thanksgiving menus would be an innovative way for American Jews to honor their dual heritage. These recipes are also excellent choices for families who decide to postpone Thanksgiving for a day or desire to extend the warmth of America’s farewell to fall into the first night of Hanukkah.
Joyce Goldstein, chef, cooking teacher and author, raves about pumpkin-filled phyllo roses, a recipe from her second cookbook, Sephardic Flavors: Jewish Cooking of the Mediterranean. She often serves these phyllo pastries on Thanksgiving, and offers preparation tips. “If you are reluctant to handle fresh pumpkin, the canned variety yields delightful results. If you have mashed butternut squash or pumpkin leftover from Thanksgiving, make phyllo roses for Hanukhah.”
Goldstein explains that this recipe received its name from Greeks who thought rolled phyllo dough resembled roses. When filled with pumpkin, these appealing pastries are traditional at Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot, the Jewish harvest festival. They walk a fine line between being a savory dish and a dessert. Turkish Jews specialize in a sweet version.
“You can reduce the amount of sugar and add some salty cheese to make the filling savory, or conversely you can increase the sugar to make it a dessert pastry,” she says.
Hosts who are throwing back-to-back holiday parties have a wide variety of late-harvest produce from which to choose.
“Root vegetables, such as parsnips, are what people tend to make at this time of year,” says Abadi, waxing poetic about sweet parsnips with chickpeas, a favorite family recipe. Besides the fact that parsnips are popular Thanksgiving fare, her recipe calls for them to be sauteed in oil, so the dish is perfect for Hanukkah, too. As a bonus, it complements either pot roast, chicken–or turkey. Parsnips contain natural sugar and, when combined with the recipe’s chickpeas and cumin, fuse into surprising flavor.
This play between sweet and savory is common in Thanksgiving fare. Think of the contrast between sweet potatoes and turkey or the sourness of cranberries, which are offset by mounds of sugar. This same contrast is typical of Jewish foods throughout the Middle East, so often doused with lemon juice, which is tamed by dried fruit, sweet vegetables or sugar.
“The Jewish soul has an affinity for the sweet and tangy and the sweet and spicy,” says Cohen, adding that many Ashkenazi dishes, such as borscht or sweet and sour cabbage, exude contrasting flavor. “Jews can’t consider sweetness without thinking of the other side. We break a glass at weddings and at seders drip wine to remember Egyptian cruelty.”
On the cusp of two holidays, she recommends serving carmelized onion and carrot tzimmes with candied ginger, a variation with kick inspired by traditional Ashkenazi cuisine. Relying on well trained tastebuds, she developed the recipe through trial and error.
“I don’t like foods that are overly sweet,” she says. “They’re not nuanced. To appreciate sweetness, you need something to counteract it.” By adding ginger to her tsimmes, she achieved a fuller spectrum of flavors than the usual carrot, sweet potato and prune variety.
Besides its tart and tingling sweetness, her recipe has the consistency of a sauce and perks up turkey, which tends to be dry and bland. An alternative to cranberry relish, her zesty tsimmes balances the opulence of brisket or goose, both traditional at Hanukkah.
Among Jews of Central and Eastern Europe, goose was a treasured treat throughout the winter. While turkey is typical at Thanksgiving, it is not required. Roasting goose would bring back a beloved Ashkenazi dish that is waning.
Its origins in Morocco, the raisin and walnut Jam Tart is an elegant dessert featured in Joyce Goldstein’s latest book, Saffron Shores: Jewish Cooking of the Southern Mediterranean.
She describes it as, “rich, rich, rich,” and claims that this tart would be an interesting twist on Thanksgiving, a change of pace from traditional Thanksgiving pies.
“But my family would kill me if I didn’t make pumpkin pie, too,” she says. “We have two pies, and one is always pumpkin.”
Goldstein is not fazed by the prospect of one holiday running into the other. She feels with so much leftover Thanksgiving turkey, there’s no need to prepare an elaborate main course for the first night of Hanukkah. She suggests concentrating on side dishes, latkes and fritters, which can be reworked from the bounty filling the refrigerator from the day before.
“My family loves Thanksgiving leftovers,” says Goldstein. “Hanukkah or not, they always show up at my house the next day.”
On Hanukkah, it’s the lighting of candles and singing that her grandchildren love. Not to mention small gifts and dipping fritters in applesauce, which this year can be spiked with cranberry relish.
“I think we’re going to have an exciting, an easier Hanukkah,” Goldstein says. “If we take advantage of the good cooking we did for Thanksgiving.”
PUMPKIN-FILLED PHYLLO ROSES (a savory version) (RODANCHES de KALAVASA)
From Sephardic Flavors by Joyce Goldstein
1 can (16-ounces) solid-pack, unsweetened pumpkin puree
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil, plus 1/2 cup
1 cup chopped walnuts
pinch of salt
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
8 phyllo sheets, thawed in refrigerator, if frozen
1. To pumpkin, add sugar, cinnamon and 2 Tbsp. oil. Place in a saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until thick. Cool and place in a colander to drain for several hours.
2. Move to a bowl and fold in walnuts, salt and parsley.
3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Oil 2 baking sheets.
4. Cut phyllo sheets into thirds, so you have rectangles measuring about 6 by 12 inches. When not working with the phyllo sheets, cover with plastic wrap to avoid drying out.
5. Brush one rectangle with oil. Layer another rectangle on top and brush with oil. Place a narrow line of pumpkin filling just inside a long edge. Fold over the edge to cover the filling and continue to roll, brushing with oil as you roll, until you have a long snake. Do not roll tightly as phyllo may crack. Curl the snake into a spiral coil, but not tightly. Repeat until no filling and phyllo remain.
6. Place spirals on baking sheets. Bake until golden brown, 30-45 minutes. Serve warm or hot.
Yield: 10-12 pastries
CARMELIZED ONION AND CARROT TZIMMES WITH CANDIED GINGER
From The Gefilte Variations by Jayne Cohen
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 and 1/2 lbs. red onions, thinly sliced (6 cups) salt and freshly ground pepper
4-5 medium carrots, peeled and sliced (2 cups)
1 Tbsp. minced candied ginger
1 cup fresh orange juice
1 Tbsp. grated orange zest
1 Tbsp. honey
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 cup pitted prunes, quartered
1. In a 10-12 inch skillet, heat oil and add onions. Salt and pepper lightly, stirring well. Cook covered, over very low heat, stirring occasionally so the mixture does not burn, for 30-40 minutes, or until onions are meltingly tender and almost transparent.
2. Add carrots, ginger, juice, zest, honey, cinnamon and additional salt and pepper to taste. Raise heat to medium-high and bring mixture to a boil. Let it bubble for a few minutes, then reduce heat and continue cooking, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the carrots are tender and onions golden and syrupy, about 15 minutes.
3. Add prunes and simmer for 5-10 minutes longer, or until prunes are quite soft. If necessary, boil for a few minutes over high heat to evaporate any liquid remaining in pan. Adjust seasoning.
4. Tsimmes tastes best if allowed to stand covered for at least 10 minutes, or prepare in advance and reheat before serving. Yield: About 6 servings
SWEET PARSNIPS WITH CHICKPEAS (JEZER ABYIAD M’HUMMOS)
From A Fistful of Lentils by Jennifer Felicia Abadi
4 cups peeled, cubed parsnips, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 and 1/2 cups cold water
3 tsp. vegetable oil
1 cup coarsely chopped yellow onions
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
2/3 cup canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter (or margarine, for pareve version)
3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1. Place parsnips and 2 cups water in a large saucepan. Bring to a slow boil and cook over medium heat, uncovered, until partially tender, 5-7 minutes.
2. While parsnips cook, heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat and cook onions and garlic until soft, about 5-6 minutes.
3. Drain parsnips and transfer to the saucepan with garlic and onions. Add the salt, pepper and cumin. Add thyme by crushing it between palms of your hands. Add remaining 1/2 cup water and chickpeas. Simmer 15 minutes, uncovered, over medium heat.
4. Remove from heat, transfer to a serving bowl, and toss gently with butter. Correct seasonings and sprinkle with lemon juice. Serve hot.
Yield: 4-6 servings
RAISIN AND WALNUT JAM TART (TARTE au CONFITURE des RAISINS et NOIX)
From Saffron Shores by Joyce Goldstein
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup canola oil
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1. In food processor, combine flour, sugar and baking powder. Pulse in oil, egg yolk and vanilla until dough just comes together.
2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll dough out into a 12-inch circle between sheets of parchment paper and press into an 8 or 9 inch tart pan with a removable bottom.
3. Fill with raisin and walnut conserve (recipe below). Bake until crust is golden and the top is set, 18-25 minutes.
Yield: 8 servings
RAISIN AND WALNUT CONSERVE (CONFITURE des RAISINS et NOIX)
1 cup sugar
11/2 cups water
1/2 cinnamon stick
2-3 whole cloves
1/2 vanilla bean cut in half lengthwise
3/4 pound large black raisins, rinsed and separated
11/4 cups walnuts
1. In a large saucepan, combine sugar, water, cinnamon, cloves and vanilla. Add raisins and cook for 10-15 minutes over low heat.
2. Add nuts and simmer until slightly caramelized, about 10 minutes. Do not let this get too thick, or it will set like glue. Cool, cover and refrigerate for up to a month.