MONSEY, N.Y. (JTA) — Chanukah, O Chanukah … it’s one of my favorite times of year — and certainly one of the busiest!
I host several parties because you know how it goes: Aunt Jenny won’t come if Uncle Oscar is in the room, and Scott isn’t talking to Heather, and Barbara won’t bring the kids if Steve is coming. You have to check your opinions on politics and religion at the door with your coat (that leaves only sports and weather).
So there is at least a party a night before the week is out. That’s a lot of cooking.
You may not believe that I don’t like to cook being that I am a cookbook author (the "Quick & Kosher" cookbook series), run a kosher food blog (blog.kosher.com) and host an online cooking show ("Quick & Kosher with Jamie Geller"). The fact is, I wrote my first cookbook, "Quick & Kosher: Recipes from the Bride Who Knew Nothing," precisely because I needed easy recipes that would get me out of the kitchen fast. Once I had a sizable collection — and learned how to turn on my oven — I wanted to share my beginner’s expertise with the hungry waiting world.
I actually had to learn how to use an oven. I’m not pointing any Freudian fingers here, but the truth is that my mother never cooked. It was my grandparents, immigrants from the Old Country, who showed me that there are other ways to get food besides dialing a phone. (They didn’t have phones in the Old Country, so they had to cook.) In fact, Mom’s folks were professional chefs who ran a terrific little restaurant in Philadelphia.
They fried up our latkes year after year — the kind of latkes that would be gone before the tray reached my end of the table. It never occurred to me that I could learn, but Chanukah miracles continue to happen, even in my own kitchen.
I’ve learned a thing or two — enough to write a second cookbook ("Quick & Kosher Meals in Minutes") — while I juggled a career and four children under the age of 5. I learned to cook great food in a fraction of the usual time, and I love sharing my tips with other busy people.
For those planning a Chanukah bash, my goal is to keep you calm and confident while thoroughly versed in prepping the customary fried and dairy treats.
I’m not an expert at explaining those customs, but here goes.
Take the fried foods — specifically the noble potato pancake, or latke. The main miracle of Chanukah was that the supply of sacred oil needed for the golden menorah of the Holy Temple (when it was re-sanctified by the Maccabees) was only enough to last one day, yet it burned for eight. So we fry Chanukah foods in oil. In Israel they do doughnuts, called sufganiyot, and they are a little piece of sugar-coated heaven.
The dairy thing goes back to one of the gorier stories of the Jewish victory. Suffice it to say that a clever woman used abundant dairy cuisine to lull a certain Greek general to sleep, then promptly dispatched him over the River Styx, or wherever dead Greeks go. To celebrate her triumph, we favor dairy meals (but I wouldn’t go to sleep right afterward; you can never tell.)
So whether you’re rejoicing over energy-efficient oil, the guts of a smart woman, the smarts of a gutsy woman or the fact that Scott and Heather are talking again, it’s time to party. You’ll need lots of good food, and I’m here to provide the shortcuts to culinary success with or without a miracle.
When you want to pull out all the stops, try this Chanukah menu that I pirated from my new book. It’ll look like you slaved all day — but you don’t have time for that.
Quick & Kosher Chanukah Menu from Jamie Geller (serves 6)
Bombay Salmon with Jasmine Rice
Persian Cucumber Salad
Mango Cardamom Shortcakes with Ginger Whipped Cream
Prep: 15 minutes. Total: 40 minutes.
Russet potatoes are the best for baking.
3 baking potatoes, peeled and shredded
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/4 cup matzah meal
2 large eggs, beaten
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup canola oil
Sour cream for serving
1 (10-ounce) jar chutney, any variety
Line a cookie sheet with paper towels.
In a large bowl, mix together potatoes, onion, peas, matzah meal, eggs, curry powder, and salt.
In a large nonstick saute pan, heat 1/4 cup oil over high heat until shimmering but not smoking, about 1 minute. Ladle about 1/4 cup batter per latke into the hot oil, spreading batter to form a 3-inch round. Make 3 latkes at a time. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 4 minutes on each side, until latkes are golden. Remove from oil and place on paper towels to drain.
Continue making latkes, three at a time, until all of the batter is used. Add oil to the pan as necessary, heating oil after each addition before adding more batter.
Serve with sour cream and chutney.
BOMBAY SALMON WITH JASMINE RICE
Prep: 8 minutes. Total: 40 minutes.
A salmon steak is cut across the fish to form a slice containing the bones. A filet is taken from the side of the fish, leaving the bones behind.
1/4 cup olive oil
6 (10-ounce) salmon steaks
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon kosher salt, divided
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cube frozen crushed ginger
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
Pinch ground cloves
1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk
1 cup jasmine rice
Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Place a 7-by-9-inch ungreased baking pan in the oven.
Rub 1/4 cup olive oil all over salmon steaks and season with pepper and 2 teaspoons salt. Set aside.
In a medium saucepot, bring 2 cups water and remaining 1 teaspoon salt to a boil over high heat.
In a medium saute pan, heat 1 tablespoon canola oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, ginger, curry powder, cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric, and cloves. Mix well and cook for 1 minute more. Slowly stir in coconut milk and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.
Add rice to the boiling water. Reduce heat to a slow simmer. Cover and cook for 20 minutes.
While rice is cooking, remove the baking pan from the oven. Place salmon steaks on the pan and return it to the oven. Immediately reduce heat to 300. Bake for 20 minutes or until fish flakes with a fork.
Plate salmon steaks and spoon the sauce over top. Serve with jasmine rice.
PERSIAN CUCUMBER SALAD
Prep: 4 minutes. Total: 10 minutes.
3 Persian cucumbers or 1 English cucumber
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon minced shallots
2/3 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 small red onion, halved lengthwise and sliced
1/2 cup golden raisins
Quarter cucumbers lengthwise and slice them into 2 1/2 -inch sticks.
Place red wine vinegar, honey, and shallots in blender or food processor. With the blender or processor running, slowly add olive oil. Add salt and pepper.
In a large salad bowl, toss cucumbers, onions, and raisins together. Pour dressing over salad and serve.
MANGO CARDAMOM SHORTCAKES WITH GINGER WHIPPED CREAM
Prep: 10 minutes. Total: 55 minutes.
Chilling the dough makes it easier to roll out and helps the glutens relax so the dough is not tough. Lining your baking sheet with parchment paper makes clean-up a snap, helps food color more evenly, and prevents food from sticking.
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
5 tablespoons shortening
2⁄3 cup whole milk
Flour for kneading
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
2 mangoes, pitted, peeled, cut in 1/4-inch cubes
Preheat oven to 450. Line a jelly-roll pan with parchment paper. In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and cardamom.
Using a pastry cutter or a fork, cut the shortening into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal.
Add the milk and mix together just until combined.
Turn out onto a floured board or work surface. Knead until a dough is formed, about 2 minutes, adding flour as necessary to keep it from being too sticky. Be careful not to knead too much or shortcakes will be tough. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or overnight.
Roll out dough with a rolling pin to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut into rounds with a 2 1/2 -inch diameter biscuit cutter or glass.
Place shortcakes on prepared pan and bake for 10 minutes.
Whip heavy cream with confectioners’ sugar and ginger until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes.
Transfer shortcakes to a serving platter. Split each shortcake in half horizontally and distribute the mango among the shortcakes. Top each with whipped cream.
Recommended Wine: Hagafen White Riesling
The fried latkes and the flavors derived from the medley of spices in the sauce for the salmon steaks require a versatile wine.
(Jamie Geller is the author of "Quick and Kosher Recipes from the Bride Who Knew Nothing" and its sequel, "Quick and Kosher Meals in Minutes from the Bride Who Knew Nothing." To learn more recipes, visit Jamie’s blog at blog.kosher.com.)