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Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish holiday marking the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, began at sunset Tuesday. And for chef Reyna Simnegar, it also marked the beginning of eight nights of “balagan,” the Hebrew word for mess or chaos!
Simnegar lives in Brookline, Mass., but she was born and raised in Venezuela, is Jewish and married to an Iranian. So her Hanukkah menu is infused with Persian spices and a Latin American spirit.
Instead of traditional potato latkes, she opts for some made from sour apples or eggplant. Simnegar also makes the traditional deep-fried jelly doughnuts, known as soofganiot. But while most people fill them with jelly, Reyna offers an alternative, using her mother’s recipe for crema pastelera, a dairy custard from Venezuela.
Simnegar says the trick to frying food is using canola oil, and making sure the temperature is just right – between 350 to 375 degrees. She says as long as you keep the temperature at the right level, the oil won’t soak into your food, instead it will keep the food crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside.
No matter which ingredients you use in your latkes and sufganiyot, Reyna says cooking in oil is paramount, since the holiday celebrates the lighting of the menorah in the Temple. According to the Talmud, there was only enough sacred oil for the wicks on the menorah to burn for one day, but it miraculously burned for eight days.
If you are an eggplant fan, this dish will be absolutely delicious! A kookoo is nothing more than a Persian latke. This recipe makes 5-inch kookoos (imagine a latke on steroids) or you can also make the usual 2-inch bite-size portions. These are great stuffed into a pita with chummus and vegetables.
Tricks of the trade: If you do not have a spatula large enough to flip this kookoo, do not panic. Simply use a dinner plate instead of a spatula. Position the plate upside-down firmly on top of the skillet, just like a lid. Hold the skillet handle with your left hand and place your right hand firmly flat on the plate. Rapidly flip the skillet over, supporting the plate with your right hand, and lift the skillet off the plate. The kookoo will be sitting on the plate, ready to be slipped back into the skillet to brown on the other side!
1 large eggplant
½ onion, finely diced
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
½ cup flour
1 tablespoon canola oil, for frying
1. Roast the eggplant on a grill or directly over medium heat on your stovetop or broil in the oven on high in a 9”x13” aluminum pan until the skin is blistered and black on all sides. Make sure to turn the eggplant so all the sides of become blistered. Set aside for 10 minutes or until it looks heavy and sinks in.
2. In the meantime, combine remaining ingredients (except oil) in a medium bowl.
3. Peel the eggplants, mash with a fork, and add the pulp to the bowl. Keep mixing until it looks like a creamy batter.
4. Heat oil in a small skillet (5-inch diameter) over medium/high heat. Use a ladle to pour one-fifth of the batter into the skillet (it should be about 2 inches thick) and cook, covered, over medium heat until the edges brown. With the help of a large spatula or a small plate (see above), turn the kookoo over and cook the other side until it is brown.
5. Repeat with remaining batter.
6. Serve with pita bread, tomatoes, and onions.
Yield: 5 kookoos
Kookoo sib’e torsh
I bet you never imagined Persian food could get as original as this! Talk about killing two birds with one stone! As you know, latkes are traditionally eaten with applesauce and sour cream. Here is a latke with the applesauce included! These are absolutely delicious and, contrary to what one might think, they are savory with a hint of sweetness.
2 large green apples, with skins, cored and shredded
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup flour
canola oil, as needed, for frying
1. In a medium bowl mix the apples, eggs, salt, and flour to form a wet batter. Set aside.
2. Fill a medium skillet with ½-inch of oil and heat over medium heat until oil sizzles in contact with a drop of water. Drape a platter with a few sheets of paper towel to absorb the extra oil after frying.
3. Using a large spoon or ¼-cup measure, drop batter into oil, forming patties about 2 inches wide. Fry for about 2 minutes in each side or until the kookoos are brown and scrumptious. Place on the paper towel-covered platter to drain excess oil.
4. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Yield: 13 kookoos
Soofganiot or Pirashkee
Soofganiot are jelly doughnuts traditionally eaten during the holiday of Chanuka. Soofganiot are golden dough on the outside with delicious jam filling inside. The reason these are eaten during Chanuka is because they are fried in oil, thereby commemorating the miracle of the oil and the menorah. It is brought down that Adam and Eve received a soofganiah as they were leaving the Garden of Eden. The word soofganiah is a combination of three Hebrew words: soof (end) gan (garden) iah (G-d), which loosely means, “the end of the Garden of G-d.” Some say that it was a message from G-d to teach us that even though life on earth might seem plain and bumpy on the outside, there is plenty of sweetness inside, we just have to “dig” deep enough to get to it.
Persians have a delicious dessert called pirashkee that is nothing less than a doughnut filled with custard. I provide you with the custard recipe here if you want to make this delicious version of a soofganiah.
½ cup warm water
2 envelopes active dried yeast (4½ teaspoons active dry yeast)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 stick unsalted parve margarine at room temperature (8 tablespoons)
¼ cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
¼ cup water
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons brandy
4¼ cups flour, divided
4 cups canola oil, for frying
Filling (your choice)
custard (parve or dairy, recipe for vanilla pastry cream below)
1. To make the yeast mixture: In a small bowl combine the warm water, active dry yeast, and sugar. Cover and set aside.
2. In a stand mixer fitted with a flat paddle attachment, combine margarine, sugar, salt, water, eggs, brandy, and 2 cups flour. Mix well. Add the yeast mixture and remaining 2¼ cups flour. Mix until uniform, pliable dough is formed.
3. Transfer dough to a piece of parchment paper (12″x17″) and flatten with a rolling pin to 1-inch thickness. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to rise for 1 hour.
4. In a 6-quart saucepan, heat the canola oil to fry the soofganiot. The oil is ready when a candy thermometer reads 350°F.
5. Using a 2-inch circular cookie cutter, cut circles of dough. Drop dough into the hot oil and fry each side until brown. Remove from the oil, using a slotted spoon, and place into a colander. Set aside to cool.
6. Once cooled, inject your choice of jelly into the soofganiah using a squeeze bottle or a pastry bag fitted with a long filling tip. Sprinkle generously with powdered sugar.
Yield: about 20 soofganiot
This recipe is to fill Persian pirashkee. My mother-in-law loves this! It was her idea to fill soofganiot with this delicious cream. In my country we also have a version of pirashkee called bomba, which in Spanish means bomb! I guess that refers to the fact that eating too many of these is equivalent to bombing your scale! This is my mother’s recipe for crema pastelera (dairy custard). It is super-easy to make and absolutely delicious! You might just want to forget filling any doughnut and simply eat it all alone! You can make this cream low fat using low-fat condensed and regular milk. I measure the milk using the same can the condensed milk came in…one less thing to wash!
1 (14-oz) can condensed milk
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 egg yolks
5 teaspoons corn starch
1. In a medium nonstick saucepan, combine all ingredients. Bring to a boil.
2. Cook for 1 minute, mixing constantly, until it starts to bubble and thicken.
3. Cool to room temperature before using.
Yield: 2 cups
All recipes from “Persian Food from the Non-persian Bride: And Other Sephardic Kosher Recipes You Will Love” by Reyna Simnegar, published by Philipp Feldheim (March 1, 2011).