On Kislev 25 of the Jewish calendar, Dec. 21 of
this year, the first Hanukkah candle is lit and
the winter holiday season begins for Jews.
For eight consecutive nights, a different candle
is lit on the menorah and Jewish families sing,
play with the dreidel and feast.
Jewish food is as eclectic as its people, who
hail from all over the world. Traditionally, Jewish
food originated from three sects; Eastern European,
Central European and Moroccan. Not surprisingly,
many of the foods are similar because Judaism
has written code of religious dietary laws, which
is based in ancient Hebrew custom.
Many of the dietary laws have often been dismissed
as outdated sanitary precautions but many Jews
in Queens still follow the standards handed down
to them from generations ago.
For example, it’s Jewish custom not to cook
on the Sabbath, which is why slow cooking dishes
like cholent and kugle are prepared prior to sundown
In the United States, German Jews were the first
to organize and begin promoting their ethnic food.
The earliest Jewish-American cookbook was Esther
Levy’s “Jewish Cookery Book,”
first published in Philadelphia 1871. But it wasn’t
until around World War I that Jewish cooking began
to be recognized by America’s diverse population.
Soon Russian, German and other Eastern European
Jewish recipes were traded and today it can be
difficult to distinguish the foods at a common
Jewish-American dinner table.
Living in such an international borough as Queens,
Russian Jews will often eat Hungarian Cabbage
Strudel without a thought of history.
These days, Jews who overlook the strident dietary
laws will often turn to ethnic fare for the holidays.
Probably the most traditional food eaten by Jews
during the holiday season are latkes, or fried
According to Joan Nathan, author of the “Jewish
Holiday Kitchen”, the symbolism of the pancakes
is threefold. They served as a reminder of the
food hurriedly prepared for the Maccabees as they
went before their military victory. The oil in
which the pancakes are prepared symbolizes the
cleansing and rededication of the Temple after
it was defiled by the Assyrians. The third meaning,
added in medieval times, signifies Judith’s
chastity and humility over the lust and pride
of Assyrian general Holofernes, who would have
had the Jews slaughtered had Judith not fed him
so well and given him so much wine that he fell
asleep and she could kill him.
But as mentioned before Jews from different parts
of the world eat differently. Here’s a sample
Hanukkah menu from “The Jewish Holiday Kitchen”
for three of the most common ethnic variations.
Russian Vegetable soup
Sauerbraten a la Nathan
Nicol Amsellm’s Spinach Salad
Moroccan Carrot Salad
Moroccan Sweet Potato and Vegetables
Ma’amoul (nut filled cookies)
Cigares (honey finger pastries
Roast Goose with Chestnut and Apple Stuffing
Rumanian Fried Noodle Pudding
Endive, Grapefruit and Avocado Salad
10 medium potatoes
2 medium onions
2 large eggs
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, breadcrumbs
or matzo meal
Salt and white pepper
1. Peal potatoes and place in cold water.
2. Alternatively grate onions and potatoes with
grater over a mixing bowl.
3. Blend mixture with eggs, flour, salt and
4. Heat oil in pan. Drop about one tablespoon
of mixture and fry, turning once. When golden
and crisp on each side, drain on paper towels.
Serve with yogurt, sour cream, sugar or applesauce.