At sundown on Dec. 16, Sarah Shaw and her family will celebrate with Jews around the world the beginning of eight nights of Hanukkah, which recounts the miraculous ancient victory of the Maccabees over the Syrians in reclaiming the Temple in Jerusalem. Sarah, the daughter of Gary and Amy Shaw, enjoys the lightheartedness of the “Festival of Lights,” which she celebrates with family and friends.
As the fourth child in a blended family of five children, Sarah, 15, likes to mix it up in the kitchen with her 12-year-old brother, Jacob, and mother.
“Holidays are a time to come together, and we have fun with it,” Amy Shaw says. “So many Jewish traditions are tied to the foods that are served, and Sarah likes to make sure there’s a variety of dishes at our gatherings, so no one goes home hungry.”
Occupation: High school freshman
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Residence: Overland Park
Special cooking interest: Traditional Jewish foods.
What does the season of Hanukkah mean to you? As Jews, we must never forget what happened in the second century B.C.E., when Judah the Maccabee led a fighting band of Jews to reclaim the Temple in Jerusalem from the Syrians. One of the first tasks of the Jews was to rededicate the temple.
The Jews lit the holy menorah (lamp) but found only enough holy oil to last one day. We remember the miracle of the oil, as the flames of the menorah burned steadily for eight days, by which time purified oil was ready. As people of Jewish faith, we are proud of our heritage, that we are openly free to practice Judaism and let the light shine from our menorahs.
What is the significance of frying and eating latkes or potato/vegetable pancakes? Foods eaten during Hanukkah are fried to symbolize the miracle of the oil that lasted for eight days. Sufganiyot are round jelly doughnuts that people also eat during Hanukkah, because they are fried in oil, too.
Since my mom was pregnant with me more than 15 years ago, our family has had the tradition of hosting a huge Hanukkah open house every year, which we refer to as “LatkeFest.” We don’t exchange gifts during Hanukkah, but I love sharing this holiday with family and friends: lighting the candles on the menorah with prayers while singing songs.
Your recipe for latkes doesn’t even include the conventional potato. Even though I love all latkes — except the anchovy ones — the zucchini latkes are my favorite. They are crispy on the outside but still soft and yummy on the inside. I love to dip them in chili, and we make five different kinds of chili to enjoy during LatkeFest.
Our family makes many different kinds of latkes every year: Mexican latkes with jalapenos and salsa; Greek latkes with Kalamata olives and feta cheese; latkes made of sweet potatoes, and potato latkes with anchovies are a few of the varieties we serve. Of course, with latkes you need toppings, so we always have applesauce, sour cream, whipped cream and hummus for dipping.
You are so knowledgeable about your Jewish faith and the food rituals that traditionally go with those celebrations. To me, being Jewish is not just my religion, it is simply who I am. I believe that being kind to others is the most important thing you can do with your life. One of my favorite things to do is to help make meals at a homeless shelter in Kansas City. I get so much from talking to people — there is so much more to life than my small existence — but I can help and make a difference.
The food we eat on Jewish holidays has a deeper meaning and is meant to remind us of what we are celebrating. It seems as though our faith and the foods we eat are intertwined.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. To nominate a cook, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Zucchini Latkes or Pancakes
Makes about 15 (4-inch wide) pancakes
2 tablespoons finely minced red onion
2 eggs, well beaten
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 large zucchinis
Vegetable oil, for frying
Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, stir onion, eggs, flour, baking powder, salt and pepper together. Set mixture aside.
Peel and grate zucchini, using a box grater or the grating blade on a food processor. Transfer grated zucchini to the center of a clean dish towel and completely fold towel over vegetables. Wring dish towel over sink to squeeze water out of the zucchini. When the grated zucchini is very dry, pour it into the onion mixture and gently stir until well combined.
Coat the bottom of a 12-inch sauté pan with vegetable oil and heat until oil sizzles over medium-high heat. (You can also coat an electric skillet with vegetable oil and heat to 375 degrees.) Place approximately 2 tablespoons batter in pan for each pancake, making sure not to crowd pancakes in the pan or skillet. Fry for about 11/2 minutes, or until crispy brown, and flip. Fry on other side for an additional minute and place on paper towel to absorb excess oil.
Transfer fried and drained latkes to an oven-safe baking dish, layered between pieces of parchment paper and place in oven to keep warm until ready to serve.
Add more oil to the saute pan as needed for frying and continue process until all batter is used.
Per serving, based on 15: 149 calories (61 percent from fat), 10 grams total fat (2 grams saturated), 85 milligrams cholesterol, 10 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams protein, 341 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.