A Sweet Chanukah Treat
By Carol Goodman Kaufman / Special to the BJV
My very creative friend Rhonda teaches in a Jewish day school. When Hanukkah rolled around last year, she planned a unique lesson for her students in the third grade. First, she taught the class about the debate between the houses of Hillel and Shammai as to the correct way to light the oil lamps on the hanukkiah. (Little boxes of multicolored candles were not available in supermarkets back then.)
Which way was right? To start with one light and progress to eight, or vice versa?
Rhonda divided her class into two groups, one to promote Hillel's position, the other to advocate for Shammai's. While the Hillel group argued for the minhag, or custom, that we follow today (start with one and increase daily), one of Rhonda's little pupils had an entirely different take.
This third grader on the Shammai side of the debate reasoned that starting with eight lights and decreasing day by day serves as a metaphor for how our ancestors separated themselves from both the repression of enforced Hellenistic culture and its polytheism. He argued that, unlike the Seleucids who worshipped many gods, represented by the many candles, we Jews adopted the one true God. Hence, ending with one light.
Out of the mouths of babes, anyone? This kid will be appearing on a bimah near you soon.
So, who were these Seleucids? The executive summary: Following the breakup of Alexander the Great's Empire in the fourth century BCE, the Macedonian Greeks (a/k/a Seleucids) took possession of, and ruled over, a large area of western Asia, including our ancestral homeland. Two centuries into their reign, their king Antiochus IV Epiphanes began a massive campaign to suppress Jewish practice. But the Judea-based Maccabees, of their own Hasmonean dynasty, revolted against him. And as we all learned in Hebrew school, the Maccabees prevailed. The festival of Hanukkah resulted.
Having said all that, Jews have lived on the land by the Aegean for millennia (not always in sunny times, but let's leave that for another article), so it makes sense that our Greek cousins would have their own take on a Hanukkah treat that riffs on the old cooked-in-oil theme. Their contribution to the holiday table is Loukoumades, doughnut puffs drenched in orange-infused honey and sprinkled with cinnamon and nuts.
Makes about two dozen puffs
To quote an old potato chip commercial, bet you can't eat just one!
1½ tablespoons of active dry yeast (or 2 packets)
1 cup warm water
½ cup warm milk
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
⅓ cup butter, softened
½ cup honey
Peeled rind of one orange
½ cup water
1 quart vegetable oil
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ cup crushed nuts of your choice
Sprinkle yeast over 1 cup warm water in a small bowl and let stand until yeast softens and begins to form a creamy foam, about 5 minutes.
Mix together warm milk, sugar, and salt in a large bowl until sugar and salt are dissolved.
Pour in yeast mixture and stir to combine.
Beat in flour, eggs, and butter until mixture forms a smooth, soft dough.
Cover the bowl and let rise at room temperature until doubled in volume, about 30 minutes.
Stir dough well, cover, and let rise again for 30 more minutes.
Meanwhile, make the honey syrup by mixing together the honey, the orange rind, and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan and bringing it all to a boil over medium-high heat.
Turn off the heat and allow honey syrup to cool. Remove the orange rind.
Heat 2 inches oil in a deep pot to 350 degrees F
Wet your hands. With a large spoon that has also been dipped in water, scoop up about 2 tablespoons of the dough into the palm of your hand and roll it into a ball. Do not overhandle.
Drop the dough balls into the hot oil in batches, wetting the spoon and your hands each time you make a dough ball. It's helpful to have a bowl of water handy for the spoon.
Fry in the hot oil until the puffs are golden brown on the bottom, then turn them over.
Gently set the loukoumades aside to drain on a paper towel-lined plate.
After the oil has drained, place the loukoumades on a baking sheet. Drizzle with honey syrup and sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar and nuts. Serve warm.
Carol Goodman Kaufman is a recovering psychologist and criminologist with a passion for travel and food, and a lifelong love of storytelling. Her two picture books, Once in a Full Moon and Pirate Ships and Shooting Stars, encourage children (and their readers) to develop their imaginations while learning about the wonderful things in the sky. Her short stories appear in the mystery anthologies A Plot for Any Occasion and Psycho-Logical, and her first novel, The First Murder, is in the queue right now with TouchPoint Press. She's still trying to find a home for her food history/cookbook. (If you know a literary agent, please let her know!) Carol invites readers to browse her blog at https://carolgoodmankaufman.com/a-moveable-feast/, and to listen to her podcasts ”Skygazing With Carolinda” (for kids) and ”Murder We Write,” for interviews with crime writers. Both can be found wherever you get your podcasts.