As Hanukkah begins at sundown tonight, "the holiday is all about the oil," says author Judy Bart Kancigor. Her memoir cookbook, Cooking Jewish: 532 Great Recipes from the Rabinowitz Family (Workman, $19.95), has classic Jewish recipes as well as modern updates.
"We all know we eat latkes at Hanukkah to commemorate the miracle of the rededication of the Temple, when a single cruse of oil burned for eight days," she writes.
The Orange County resident was crisscrossing the country giving food demonstrations before Thanksgiving when I caught up with her via phone in New York.
She notes that for Hanukkah, which lasts eight days until Dec. 12, sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) are as popular in Israel as latkes are here. "Every bakery has sufganiyot. They are like beignets made from a light yeast dough," said the mother of two grown sons.
The cookbook includes Pnina Shichor's sufganiyot recipe in which the jam is not injected into the doughnut. Instead, a depression is formed in the dough and filled with jam after frying, making them pretty to look at and irresistible. "I like to use three different colors of jam: raspberry, apricot, and a dark purple boysenberry," said the author, who has recipes from five generations of her family in her cookbook.
But she noted that since her family - the Rabinowitz clan - is of Eastern European origin, "we have latkes."
There is nothing traditional about her latkes. She uses a blender or a food processor. "The texture should resemble applesauce," she writes about the 2 pounds of baking potatoes that are peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes, drained, and added to the blender (probably two batches). She even has a tip for making the batter ahead and a low-fat version.
Malaysian Latkes is adapted from the novelist Sharon Boorstein. This latke is made with cashews, mint, bell peppers, jalapeno, ginger, salt, curry powder, eggs, and baking potatoes. The potatoes and onion are shredded in a food processor. It is served with Cacik (pronounced jah-jik), a Turkish cucumber salad with minty yogurt sauce instead of the traditional sour cream and applesauce. "I loved the flavors of this recipe," she says. (Recipe on page 2.)
She calls Giant Stuffed Potato Latke Galette with Wild Mushrooms a "crispy potato pancake for a Hanukkah latke with attitude." The stir-fried wild mushrooms are enclosed in the crispy potato pancake. She browns it briefly on one side, then bakes it. The baked latke galette is then served by the wedge; it's enough for eight portions.
The source of all of these recipes is her extended family. In 1996 she sent a letter to her relatives asking for recipes and stories. The circle of friends and family widened, and "then I decided anyone related to Rabinowitzes by blood or marriage," she says. In 1999, she self-published a family cookbook called Melting Pot Memories. After eight printings and more than 11,000 copies, she was offered a book contract for her memoir cookbook. "I didn't even have an agent," she says. "It took 4 1/2 years to lay it out with 500 family photos. I made sure everybody was represented."
Since Hanukkah is very early this year and "the kids are in school," she and her husband will celebrate the holiday with special friends, six couples. "Everyone makes something. It's a potluck," she says. Often there's brisket like Gramma Sera Fritkin's Russian Brisket marinated in lemon for 24 hours, another recipe from the cookbook.