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For Hanukkah, Let the Children Help : This year, try making edible dreidels and menorahs. It's not that hard.

December 17, 1995|JOAN NATHAN | Nathan is the author of the newly released "The Children's Jewish Holiday Kitchen" (Schocken Books)

Hanukkah has always been a relatively minor holiday in the Jewish religion. In the United States, however, it has assumed major importance because it falls close to Christmas. A winter solstice holiday in the ancient world, the celebration later became imbued with a patriotic message, the story of triumph in a struggle for religious freedom.

In Jerusalem more than 2,000 years ago, the Jewish Maccabees defeated the huge army of Syrian King Antiochus, who had been trying to make the Israelites give up their religion. Upon their victory, the Maccabees returned to the ransacked temple in Jerusalem, hoping to rekindle the eternal lights that stood as symbols of their enduring faith.

Although there was only enough oil to last one night, the flame miraculously glowed for eight days and nights, allowing the Jews enough time to make the oil needed to keep the eternal lights aflame. Today, the celebration of Hanukkah commemorates this event.

With people's busy lives, two-job households and constantly ringing telephones, many families are losing that special time together. Perhaps more than any other holiday, Hanukkah is a great opportunity for families to come together, thinking of each other as they make and buy gifts and gather in the preparation and enjoyment of the special holiday meal.

Because of the holiday's symbols--the dreidel, for instance, the top that children spin to earn golden chocolate coins called gelt--Hanukkah is a perfect vehicle to introduce children to many aspects of Judaism and also to have some fun as they help prepare some of the special foods.

Other holiday symbols include the menorah, which represents the enduring faith of the Jewish people, and the oil itself, whose significance is highlighted in the preparation of such fried foods as potato latkes or pancakes.

This Hanukkah season, try making edible dreidels and menorahs. To make the dreidels, simply thread a toothpick through the center of a marshmallow, then carefully add a chocolate kiss, pointed side down, to one end of the toothpick.

A menorah is only slightly more complicated: Spread a flattened slice of white bread with peanut butter and arrange eight round slices of carrot in a row along the bottom edge of the bread. Place one carrot round in the center above the others for the shammas, the candle that is used to light all the others. Place pretzel sticks flat above each carrot round to be the candles. Use raisins for flames.

Then, of course, you can make Hanukkah sandwiches--dreidel, or Star of David-shaped peanut butter sandwiches. They'll be even better if you make your own peanut butter.

As for latkes, they aren't just potato pancakes anymore. This central dish served at Hanukkah time presents a great opportunity to encourage children to eat such vegetables as carrots, zucchini and even beets by using these ingredients in delicious vegetable latkes. When they have helped in the preparation of the food, children are more eager to taste their own creations.

HOMEMADE PEANUT BUTTER

1 cup dry-roasted, unsalted peanuts

1 tablespoon oil

1 teaspoon salt

Sugar

Puree peanuts and oil in food processor or use mortar and pestle and process or pound until peanuts are pulverized, either chunky or smooth, depending on your taste. Add salt and sugar to taste and additional oil if you desire creamier peanut butter.

Makes about 3/4 cup.

Each 1-tablespoon serving contains about:

82 calories; 197 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 7 grams fat; 3 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 0.62 gram fiber.

CRISP VEGETABLE LATKES

2 large boiling potatoes

2 large carrots

2 medium zucchini

1 large onion

3 eggs, beaten

1/2 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

3/4 cup matzo meal

Oil

Peel potatoes and carrots and place in cold water to cover. Use food processor with either steel blade or shredding blade to grate potatoes, carrots, zucchini and onion. (If you use steel blade, use pulse button or turn machine on and off frequently to avoid turning vegetables to mush.)

Mix grated vegetables, eggs, salt and pepper to taste in large bowl. Add matzo meal and mix well. Shape batter into pancakes, using 2 tablespoons mixture to make each pancake.

Heat 1 to 2 tablespoons oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook latkes, few at a time, flattening them out with back of spatula, until golden, about 1 1/2 minutes per side. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons oil to pan with each new batch. Repeat process until all batter has been used. Drain latkes on paper towels to absorb extra oil. Serve warm with applesauce.

Makes about 24 latkes.

Each latke contains about:

48 calories; 60 mg sodium; 27 mg cholesterol; 2 grams fat; 9 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 0.20 gram fiber.

HOMEMADE APPLESAUCE WITH CRANBERRIES

4 pounds apples, unpeeled, cored and quartered

3/4 pound cranberries

1 1/2 cups water

3/4 cup sugar or to taste

Place apples, cranberries, water and sugar in large saucepan and simmer, covered, until apples are soft, about 20 minutes. Cool slightly. Put mixture through food mill. Adjust sugar to taste. Serve at room temperature with latkes.

Makes about 8 cups.

Each 1/4-cup serving contains about:

71 calories; 0 sodium; 0 cholesterol; 0 fat; 19 grams carbohydrates; 0 protein; 0.55 gram fiber.

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