Latkes and brisket are the two foods most closely associated with the celebration of Hanukkah in the United States. That’s because the greatest wave of Jewish immigrants to the United States in the early part of the 20th century came from eastern Europe. Their culture became the template for American Jewish life.
A second, smaller wave of Jewish immigrants came during the 1970s and 1980s, and these were Sephardic Jews. Finding life to be increasingly difficult in places such as Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey during this period, many Sephardic Jews chose to live in the United States. Terre Haute, Indiana has a significant Sephardic Jewish population.
The Sephardic Jewish culture has roots both in the Middle East and in Spain, and the preferred culinary choices reflect this Mediterranean heritage. Sephardic Hanukkah meals utilize dairy products extensively and include flavors that are readily available along the Mediterranean in winter such as tomatoes, peppers and citrus.
The following recipe for fried stuffed peppers is based on one published in the book Sephardic Flavors by Joyce Goldstein.
Cheese Stuffed Peppers
8 large green bell peppers or 16 smaller green peppers or 8 poblano chiles
4 eggs, divided
1 1/2 cups crumbled feta cheese
1 1/2 cups farmer cheese or 1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese, or 1 1/2 cups fromage blanc
3/4 cup grated Kashkaval cheese or 3/4 cup Gruyere cheese
2 to 3 Tbsp chopped fresh flatleaf parsley
all purpose flour
salt and freshly ground black pepper
vegetable oil for frying
tomato based sauce, optional
Preheat broiler and broil the peppers on a cookie sheet, turning occasionally, until they are charred almost black on all sides and are softened. (You can also blacken them over the open flame on a gas stove.) Place the charred peppers into a Ziploc bag or tightly covered container and let them steam in the residual heat from the cooking for 15 minutes. Carefully scrape off the charred peel with a knife, but do not rinse them in water or you’ll lose much of the nicely roasted flavor.
Carefully cut a slit along the side of each pepper and remove the seeds.
Lightly beat 2 eggs in a bowl. Add the cheeses and parsley and stir well.
Stuff the peppers with the egg and cheese mixture. Spread the flour on a shallow dish or plate and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Add the vegetable oil to a large, deep sauté pan or pot to about 1/2-inch deep and heat to high.
In a shallow bowl, lightly beat the remaining 2 eggs.
Dredge the stuffed peppers in the flour mixture, dip in the beaten eggs, and carefully place in the hot oil in batches and fry, turning once to brown on all sides, for about 5 minutes.
Transfer the peppers with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined plate to drain extra oil, then to serving platter and serve immediately with your favorite tomato-based sauce (if using).
A second recipe comes compliments of the Midrash.org website. Sambusak are yeast-leavened, cheese filled pastries. According to the recipe’s author, Ms. Lamaan Heardoon, they are popular in Iraq.
1 lb. flour
½ tsp. baking powder
½ stick melted margarine/butter
¼ cup water
1 raw egg
a pinch of salt
½ package dry yeast
¼ cup warm water
¼ tsp. sugar
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
¼ cup farmer’s cheese (substitute ricotta or small curd cottage cheese if farmer’s cheese isn’t available)
½ tbsp. flour
Combine the yeast with the sugar and water until dissolved (10-15 mins.). Combine the remaining dough ingredients with the yeast and knead until the dough becomes soft. Cover the dough with a towel for 3-4 hours.
Combine the cheese ingredients and leave uncovered in your refrigerator overnight.
Divide the dough into walnut size balls and roll each into a small circle. Place one tsp. of the cheese mixture in the lower half of the circle, turn and close firmly. Bake for 15-20 minutes at 375º F.
Finally, the Sephardic equivalent of sufganiyot are burmuelos. Burmuelos are closer in nature to a fritter than they are to a jelly doughnut. Honey lovers will appreciate these fried treats, as they are to be drizzled generously with a honey-based sauce and served hot.
2 teaspoons dried yeast
2 1/4 cups warm water
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil, plus more for frying
3/4 cup honey
3 tablespoons water
Dissolve the yeast and the sugar in 1/2 cup of warm water. Let rest and then check to make sure the yeast is active — it should have developed small bubbles on its surface. If so, mix in the remaining water, and then stir in salt and the flour 1/2 cup at a time. Stir in the oil and continue stirring by hand until the mixture is smooth. The dough will be wobbly and sticky. Cover the bowl and let it rest in a warm, draft-free spot for 1 hour, or until the dough has doubled in volume.
Heat 3-4 inches of oil to 365 degrees in an electric fryer or a heavy-bottomed saucepan. (A piece of dough tossed into the oil should bubble furiously and develop a little within 30 seconds.) Have ready a small bowl of water. Dip hands into the water, shake off the excess and grab a piece of dough, approximately 2 tablespoons in volume. Work the dough into a ball, and then open it into a doughnut shape and carefully lay it in the oil. Repeat 2 or 3 times, making sure not to crowd the fritters. Cook about 1 1/2 minutes on each side, until the fritters are light amber brown all around. Remove to paper towels to drain. Finish cooking the rest of the dough in this manner.
Heat the honey and the water until they are blended and hot.
Arrange the fritters on a plate, and drizzle honey generously on them all, or dip individual fritters into the honey sauce.