Hanukkah is almost here, so prepare for an oil frenzy. Who knew when Judah Maccabee’s tiny flask of oil miraculously burned for eight days that for thousands of years Jewish families would celebrate by lighting candles…and frying!
While latkes by the dozens are cranked out in Ashkenazi Jewish kitchens here, in Israel sufganiyot—jelly-filled donuts—are the order of the day. Two tasty morsels from two new cookbooks—“Shuk” (Artisan, $35) by Einat Admony and Janna Gur and “Israeli Soul” (Rux Martin, $35) by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook—will have your guests begging for more.
No trip to Israel would be complete without meandering through the country’s bustling maze of shuks, open-air marketplaces, with their riot of colors, beguiling aromas and the fresh flavors of Israel’s melting pot cuisine. Acclaimed chef Einat Admony, who was born in Tel Aviv, brought her Mizrahi (Middle Eastern) heritage and experience shopping and cooking from the shuks to her New York restaurant Taïm, and with “Shuk” she has made these recipes accessible to the home cook. Janna Gur, authority on Israeli food and founder/editor of Al Hashulchan (“On the Table”), a leading Israeli food and wine magazine, brings her knowledge of Israeli culture and history to the table, adding informative and authoritative primers on the multi-ethnic roots of this rich, diverse cuisine.
You’ll find delightfully surprising twists on Israel’s most popular dishes: hummus, falafel, chopped salad and shakshuka. (This popular egg dish, subtitled “Cinderella in a skillet” is here dressed up with charred eggplant and an authentic condiment from Tripoli of chile and garlic.) Add to the mix are Admony’s family recipes from her Persian and Yemenite roots.
While Grandma’s traditional Hanukkah latkes are de rigeur for the holiday, why not shake it up with Iraqi Herb and Potato Patties. “In Jewish Iraqi homes, you’ll often find these fragrant, golden–green latkes made with loads of fresh herbs,” writes Admony. “They come together with minimal effort, and unlike the more familiar and labor-intensive Ashkenazi latkes, made with raw, grated potato, these use mashed, pre-cooked potatoes, resulting in crispy patties with a soft interior. The first aruk I ever ate were cooked by Berta, the Iraqi mother of one of my army friends. I went to her house for lunch and was blown away by how delicious her arak were.”
Chef Michael Solomonov was born in Israel but spent most of his childhood in Pittsburg. When he and his partner, Steven Cook, opened their Israeli restaurant Zahav in Philadelphia 10 years ago, they envisioned something more than the falafel and hummus that had defined Israeli cuisine in the U.S.
“There is a common misconception that Israeli food equals Middle Eastern food,” he writes in “Israeli Soul,” “but this is a vast oversimplification that obscures a remarkable story.” Israeli cuisine is more than a mishmash of Sephardic, Mizrahi and Ashkenazi recipes, he notes. “The soul of Israeli cuisine lies in the journey these foods have taken to the ends of the earth and back, to be woven together in a nascent culture that is both ancient and modern.” With “Israeli Soul” Solomonov and Cook have “developed recipes that help tell the story of Israel” and “have taken special care to make them accessible and delicious.”
Think Israeli street food easily made in the tiniest kitchen, from five-minute hummus with over two dozen toppings to grilled shawarma (no spit required) to endless variations on Israel’s beloved falafel and sabich—Solomonov calls this sandwich “the story of Israel stuffed into a pita” —plus salads, soups and stews, and breads and pastries from Israel’s restaurants and holes-in-the-wall, easily replicated in your own kitchen.
While latkes have become the iconic symbol of Hanukkah, the holiday is about the oil, not the potato, and the wispy confections known as sufganiyot—Israel’s answer to Krispy Kreme—are as popular there for Hanukkah as the latke is here. We celebrate Hanukkah “by eating foods fried in oil, rivaling Halloween for the best gratuitous reason to eat junk food, holiday division,” Solomonov writes. “Throughout Israel, bakeries turn into donut factories, producing tray after tray of plump, light, and golden brown beauties. We’ve found that eggy challah dough, enriched with butter and sugar, makes a great donut batter that’s easy to work with. Instead of rolling out the dough and punching out rings as with traditional yeast donuts, we use an ice cream scoop to form and dispense the sufganiyot into the oil.
Aruk (Iraqi Herb and Potato Patties)
“I bake my potatoes, rather than boil them, because I like the richer, more potatoey flavor,” explains Admony.“ The dryer texture makes the latkes fluffier too.”
Yield: about 24
3 medium russet potatoes (about 1½ pounds total), unpeeled, baked and cooled
1 large yellow onion
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
¼ cup chopped green onions
3/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1½ teaspoons baharat, store-bought or homemade
(for recipe go to jlifesgpv.com)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable or olive oil, for frying
Red pepper and chili tahini sauce, for serving
(for recipe go to jlifesgpv.com)
- Preheat oven to 350°F
- Scoop out cold potato flesh; roughly mash in large bowl. Grate onion into another bowl. Squeeze out as much moisture as you can, then add onion to potatoes. Add eggs, flour, green onions, parsley, cilantro, cumin, paprika, baharat, salt and several twists of pepper and mix thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes.
- Line tray or plates with two layers of paper towels. Fill large nonstick skillet with oil ¼ inch high; heat over medium–high heat. Meanwhile, rub your hands with additional oil and shape potato mixture into patties about 2 1/2 inches across. Working in batches, add patties to hot oil and fry until deep golden-green and crispy, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels.
- Serve hot or warm, with red pepper tahini sauce. Best fresh out of the skillet, but you can keep leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for a day; reheat at 350°F 5 to 7 minutes. Note: To speed things up, you can pulse herbs and onion in food processor until finely chopped.
Fried Challah Sufganiyot
We love the exotic and festive combination of quince jam and rose petal sugar, but feel free to substitute any jam and sugar combination.
Yield: about 24
½ cup sugar
1 package active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons olive oil
3 tablespoons canola oil, plus more for frying
½ cup egg yolks (about 6 large yolks)
2/3 cup butter (11 tablespoons), at room temperature
2 cups quince (or other fruit) jam
Rose petal sugar: 1cup sugar mixed with ½ cup crushed dried rose petals
- Combine sugar, yeast, and water in bowl of stand mixer fitted with hook. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Add flour, salt, olive oil, canola oil, and egg yolks. Mix on low speed until dough comes together and begins to pull away from sides of bowl, about 1 minute.
- Gradually mix in butter, mixing another minute. Scrape down sides of bowl; continue mixing 2 more minutes. Cover bowl and let rise at room temperature until quadrupled in volume, about 4 hours.
- Fill large pot with generous 2 inches canola oil. Heat over medium heat until oil registers 350°F on candy thermometer. Line baking sheet with paper towels.
- Use ice cream scoop to drop balls of dough into hot oil, adjusting heat as necessary to maintain oil temperature. Fry donuts in batches until golden, 4 to 6 minutes. Remove from pot with slotted spoon to drain on paper towels. Let cool slightly.
- Poke hole in each doughnut with tip of paring knife. Spoon jam into large resealable plastic bag, press out air, and twist top until bag feels tight. Snip off a corner of bag and squeeze jam into each donut until a bit oozes out. Roll filled donuts in rose petal sugar. Serve warm.
Jlife Food Editor Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish” (Workman) and “The Perfect Passover Cookbook” (an e-book short from Workman), a columnist and feature writer for the Orange County Register and other publications and can be found on the web at