This year, the Jewish holiday Hanukkah comes on Thanksgiving Day. This has not happened in more than a century - since 1888. It is an opportunity to incorporate some traditional Hanukkah food into our Thanksgiving feast.
Both holidays are celebrations of gratitude: Hanukkah commemorates the military victory of Judah Maccabee over the ruling Greeks, and at Thanksgiving we recall the Pilgrims safe arrival in a new land. Both celebrate religious freedom: the Greeks of the 2nd century BCE had banned the Jewish religion and desecrated the holy Temple. Likewise, in 17th century England, attendance at official Church of England services was compulsory, and Pilgrims were Separatists, followers of John Calvin, with somewhat different beliefs. So the Pilgrims left England aboard the Mayflower in 1620 seeking to worship God in their own way.
And each comes with culinary traditions. On Hanukkah foods are fried in oil in memory of the small cruse of consecrated oil that burned for 8 days, when there was barely enough for one. Modern Jews do this by frying latkes in oil, though the potato is a New World food that was not available to ancient Hebrews in Israel. On Thanksgiving we eat turkey, potatoes, cranberries, sweet potatoes and squash - foods native to the New World. According to tradition, the Pilgrims received these as gifts of goodwill from the native peoples.
There are many ways to combine these culinary traditions. Latkes can replace traditional mashed potatoes. Sweet potato latkes can be served alongside turkey, with cranberry apple sauce or chutney. Cooked fruit in the form of applesauce is a common accompaniment to Hanukkah latkes, and cooked cranberries are served with turkey for Thanksgiving - so why not combine them. Traditional Jewish dishes like noodle kugel or sufganiyot doughnuts can be made with the addition of pumpkin.
Tsimmes, a sweet and savory vegetable dish often served at Jewish holiday feasts, can be made with sweet potatoes and carrots, which fit in well with the Thanksgiving theme. This traditional festive dish combines root vegetables with dried fruits and sweetened with honey and sweet spices like cinnamon and ginger. Root vegetables sing of the season, and this lean vegetable dish is quite welcome alongside rich Thanksgiving fare of turkey, gravy, biscuits and pie. There is no official recipe, so it easily incorporates whatever root veggies are available at the farmers' market or are waiting to be used up in your kitchen. You can make it sweet by adding prunes and drizzling with honey, or savory with onions and fennel. The technique is simple: combine everything in a casserole, and bake for a long time. And this dish can be made ahead, making it a quick "re-heat" side dish on a busy cooking day.
2 lbs. sweet potatoes (about 4)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 large onions
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 lb. carrots (3 or 4)
1/2 lb. parsnips (3 or 4)
1 large apple or pear
2 cups dried cranberries
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 oranges or 1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1/3 cup chopped walnuts or 1/4 cup fine bread crumbs
Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil, and lower heat to medium; add sweet potatoes in their skins, and cook for 10 minutes, Drain, run under cool water, and peel. Cut into 1" cubes and place in a large bowl.
Heat the oil in a large skillet to medium heat. Peel and dice the onions, sprinkle with salt, and saut until translucent. Slice the carrots, add, and continue to saut until onions and carrots are golden. Transfer to bowl with the sweet potatoes.
(You can omit the above steps and just mix everything together, and double the baking time to 1 1/2 hours, or until everything is tender.)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 3 quart baking dish.
Stir spices, cranberries, and apple into the vegetables. Peel and seed the oranges. Chop and mash to release juice. Stir in.
Turn contents into prepared casserole. Drizzle with honey, if you like. Sprinkle walnuts or bread crumbs over the top. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the top becomes slightly crusty. Serve hot.
It's OK to make ahead and reheat a day or two later.
Sweet Potato Latkes
1 large baking potato (such as russet)
1 large sweet potato
1 large onion
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 Tablespoon flour, if needed
1 Tablespoon olive oil, or more if needed
1/2 teaspoon salt
Peel and grate the potato and sweet potato. Place in large bowl and stir to combine. Peel the onion and grate into the bowl with the potatoes. In a small bowl, beat the eggs with salt and pepper. Stir into the vegetables until well combined. If the mixture doesn't hold together, stir in a little flour.
Heat the olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat until it shimmers, and spoon about 1 heaping tablespoon of the potato mixture into the hot oil. Flatten the patties with the back of a spatula, and fry until golden brown and crisp on the bottom, 5 to 8 minutes. Flip and cook on the other side, sprinkle with salt, then set the cooked patties on a serving platter; they're best served right away. You may need to set them aside on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper (to absorb excess oil) and keep warm in a preheated 200-degree oven while you finish cooking the rest. Stir the potato mixture before cooking each batch of patties. Serve hot with cranberry-applesauce and sour cream or Greek yogurt.
1 or 2 apples
3/4 cup apple juice
12 oz. cranberries
Maple syrup or honey to sweeten, optional
Peel, core, and dice apples. Place apples and juice in saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat about 10 minutes, until apples soften. Add cranberries and continue cooking until cranberries burst and gel the sauce, about 10 minutes longer. Stir and taste. If you like it sweeter, add honey or maple syrup.
Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at www.wordsaremyworld.com.