A delicious Hanukka weekend

Now is a good time to prepare festive dishes that give Hanukka traditions a new twist.

latkes 224 88 (photo credit: Jerry Erico/Quick and Kosher)
latkes 224 88
(photo credit: Jerry Erico/Quick and Kosher)
By the time the fifth and sixth days of Hanukka arrive, many of us have had our fill of potato latkes and sufganiyot. But this weekend it's still Hanukka, and there's more time to relax and enjoy the holiday, whether by preparing a Shabbat Hanukka menu or having a weekend Hanukka party. Now is a good time to prepare festive dishes that give Hanukka traditions a new twist. This was the theme of the Hanukka cooking class that I just taught at Gelson's Cooking Connection in Calabasas, California. It was important to feature dishes that highlight fresh produce and lively seasonings, fitting the popular California cooking style. In addition, my goal was to design a menu that was wholesome and easy on the cook. That might sound like a tall order. In fact, it was a lot of fun to plan and cook, and of course, to eat. To celebrate Hanukka with a meal instead of an all-latke party, I chose a light main course that accompanies latkes well - salmon baked with a Mediterranean marinade. The marinade gains its lively flavor from fresh cilantro, garlic, cumin, and, of course, olive oil - the essential ingredient of the Hanukka miracle. For a first course, I made a salad of peppers cooked with tomatoes, garlic and olive oil. My students enjoyed this multipurpose salad/dip/sauce, which is terrific on fish and makes a fine partner for potato latkes or pita. Instead of the usual grated potato latkes, I made French ones from mashed potatoes with butter-cooked leeks. Then, for a completely different kind of latke, I prepared pumpkin pancakes, which were bright orange and flavored with pumpkin pie spices - cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. But it was their lively accompaniment, homemade chunky applesauce flavored with fresh ginger and dried apricots, that stole the show. With its sweet topping, this nouvelle latke made a tempting dessert. My students were pleased to know that it's nutritious as well. SAVORY BAKED SALMON WITH MOROCCAN MARINADE Salmon's flavor stands up well to the pesto-like blend of cilantro, garlic, cumin and olive oil. I like to prepare an extra portion of the marinade and use it as a savory topping for the fish. This fish is delicious whether baked, broiled or grilled on an outdoor barbecue or a stove-top grill pan. 3 large garlic cloves, peeled 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 cup small cilantro (fresh coriander) sprigs, plus a few extra sprigs for garnish 6 Tbsp. olive oil 11⁄2 tsp. ground cumin 1 tsp. paprika 1⁄4 tsp. ground black pepper 1⁄8 to 1⁄4 tsp. cayenne pepper, or more to taste salt and freshly ground pepper 4 small salmon steaks or 550 gr. to 700 gr. salmon fillet, preferably tail section, about 2.5 cm. thick Lemon wedges (for accompaniment) Marinade: Finely chop garlic in food processor. Add cilantro sprigs and chop fine. Transfer to a bowl. Add oil, cumin, paprika, black pepper and cayenne pepper. Mix well. Spoon half the marinade into a bowl and season to taste with salt; cover and refrigerate to use as sauce. Pour remaining marinade over salmon steaks. Rub into both sides of fish. Marinate for about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 230º. Line a heavy roasting pan with foil. Remove fish from marinade; discard portion of marinade in which fish was soaking. Scrape off pieces of herbs and garlic adhering to fish. Set fish in pan. Sprinkle fish on both sides with salt and pepper. Sprinkle lightly with cayenne pepper. Remove portion of marinade reserved as sauce from refrigerator. Roast fish in oven about 10 minutes. To check whether fish is done, make a small cut with a sharp knife near bone; color of flesh should have changed all the way through. To serve, spoon a little of reserved sauce on each steak. Serve hot, with lemon wedges and cilantro sprigs. Makes 4 servings. MATBUHA - SWEET AND HOT PEPPER TOMATO SALAD This rich and flavorful medley of hot and sweet peppers cooked with tomatoes is a favorite in Israel. It's usually served cold as a dip with pita. I also like it hot or cold as a sauce or accompaniment for fish or latkes. This version is medium hot; increase the amount of hot peppers or leave in their seeds and ribs if you would like it hotter. Another way to adjust the heat is to add a pinch or two of cayenne pepper to the finished mixture. 3 or 4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil 2 large green bell peppers, diced (1.2 cm. dice) 2 large red bell peppers or 1 red and 1 yellow, diced two 800-gr. cans diced tomatoes, drained Salt to taste 6 large garlic cloves, chopped 3 fresh hot peppers, seeds and ribs removed, chopped 1 tsp. ground cumin (optional) 1⁄2 cup small cilantro sprigs, chopped Heat oil in a large wide deep pan, such as a Dutch oven. Add both types bell peppers and sauté over medium-low heat about 10 minutes or until softened. Remove peppers with slotted spoon. Add tomatoes to the pan, sprinkle with salt, and bring to boil. Cook uncovered over medium heat for 20 minutes. Add sautéed peppers, garlic, hot peppers and cumin and cook over medium heat, stirring often, about 10 minutes or until bell peppers are tender and mixture is thick. Add cilantro and cook 2 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve hot, cold or at room temperature. Stir before serving. Makes 6 to 8 servings. SPICED PUMPKIN LATKES WITH HOMEMADE GINGER-APRICOT APPLESAUCE I usually microwave the pumpkin or winter squash to cook it quickly, but you can poach or steam it instead. For meatless meals, instead of making the applesauce, you can serve these gently spiced pancakes topped with yogurt and sprinkled very lightly with brown sugar. Served either way, they make a tasty brunch entree. 900 gr. butternut squash (dalorit) or pumpkin (dela'at) 1⁄2 cup plus 1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour 2 large eggs 1⁄2 tsp. ground cinnamon 1⁄4 tsp. ground ginger 1⁄4 tsp. ground allspice 1⁄2 tsp. sugar 1⁄4 tsp. salt 1⁄4 tsp. ground white pepper about 1⁄4 cup vegetable oil (for frying) Yogurt or sour cream (optional) Brown sugar (for sprinkling) Ginger-apricot applesauce - see next recipe To microwave the squash or pumpkin: With a sturdy knife, cut the pumpkin or squash in half and remove the seeds. Cut each half in two pieces. Put them cut side down in a casserole dish and add about 0.6 cm. water. Cover and microwave on high about 8 to 10 minutes or until very tender when pierced with a fork. To poach the squash or pumpkin: Cut it in 6 or 8 pieces. Add to a large saucepan with enough boiling salted water to half cover it. Return to a boil, cover and simmer over medium-low heat, turning once or twice, for 15 to 20 minutes or until very tender. Remove cooked pumpkin or squash to a plate and let cool slightly. Scoop out pulp. Cut pulp in pieces and mash it with a fork. Press pulp gently in a strainer to remove excess liquid. Transfer it to a bowl. In a medium bowl mix flour, eggs, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, sugar, salt and pepper to a very thick batter. Add to mashed pumpkin and mix very well. Heat oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Fry pumpkin mixture by tablespoonfuls, flattening each after adding it, about 2 minutes or until golden brown on each side. If the first latke sticks and does not hold together, stir another tablespoon flour into the batter. Turn pancake carefully using two pancake turners. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Continue making pancakes, adding more oil to skillet if necessary. Serve hot or at room temperature with yogurt, brown sugar and ginger-apricot applesauce. Makes 4 to 6 servings. GINGER-APRICOT APPLESAUCE Today cooks are making many new versions of applesauce. For serving with latkes, I particularly like applesauce with dried apricots, peaches or cranberries. They contribute a delicious, slightly tangy taste and a pleasing texture to the sauce. The fresh ginger gives the sauce a wonderful flavor but if you don't have any, you can substitute 2 teaspoons ground ginger. 110 gr. dried apricots or peaches 1.1 kg. sweet apples, such as Golden Delicious, or tart ones, such as Granny Smith 2 Tbsp. chopped gingerroot 1 cup water 4 to 6 Tbsp. sugar, or to taste 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice, or to taste (optional) Soak apricots in hot water to cover for about 10 minutes or until tender. Remove from water and cut in small dice. Peel apples if you like. Cut them in small dice. Combine gingerroot, water and 3 tablespoons sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring. Add apples. Cover and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Add diced apricots and cook over low heat for 5 minutes, or until apples and apricots are just tender, stirring occasionally. Taste, and add more sugar if needed, and lemon juice if you like. Serve warm or cold. Makes 4 to 6 servings. SWEET-SPICED APPLESAUCE This applesauce is flavored with cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Unlike most applesauce recipes, this one begins with sauteed apples. Use tart or sweet apples, whichever you like, and chop it as smooth as you want in a food processor. 900 gr. apples 2 Tbsp. butter or vegetable oil 1 tsp. lemon juice, or more to taste 1 tsp. ground cinnamon, or more to taste Pinch of ground cloves 1⁄4 cup apple juice or water (optional) 2 Tbsp. sugar, or more to taste Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (optional) Peel and halve apples. Cut them in wedges, discarding cores. Melt butter in a large saute pan. Add apples and saute over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes or until they are coated with butter. Add lemon juice, cinnamon, and cloves. Cover and cook over low heat for 5 minutes, or until liquid begins to come out of apples. If pan is dry, add apple juice and bring to a simmer. Uncover and cook over low heat, gently stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes or until apples are tender and beginning to fall apart. Add 2 tablespoons sugar and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, for 2 minutes or until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat. Taste and add more sugar if needed, and return to heat for another 2 minutes. Add nutmeg and more lemon juice or cinnamon if you like. Let cool. Puree apple mixture in a food processor, leaving it chunky, if you prefer, or running machine until applesauce is smooth. Serve it warm, cold, or at room temperature. Makes 8 to 10 servings. Faye Levy's latest book is Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home.