Hanukkah Memories

Submitted by Emily Levinson

Mom's latkes

Mom's latkes

I’ve never had a Christmas tree. This is something that my non-Jewish friends often find very odd. Quite possibly something even stranger is when I tell my Jewish friends about our Hanukkah bush, stockings, and when Santa would occasionally make a stop at our dark, un-festive house – much to my confusion growing up. 

So no, I never had a Christmas tree, but my father’s family would get together and decorate a bush with silver and blue ornaments (side note – where did we even get a bush?).  My grandmother, Faye Levinson, knitted us blue and white Hanukkah stockings, which I still hang up. When I was little, I was sad our dogs didn’t have stockings, so I drew Stars of David on my tiny running socks and hung one for Moxie and one for Sunshine next to ours. My parents would fill them with small gifts, which we could open on the first night of Hanukkah along with our “big” present, (our tradition was to choose one “big” gift.)  Through the years, I was the proud recipient of a portable DVD player (a road trip necessity in the early 2000s); a video camera (that I NEVER thought my parents were going to get me and freaked out over – I never used it); a keyboard (that I never learned to play correctly, and “mysteriously” disappeared one day); and an aquarium which I shared with my brother (my aunt and uncle gave it to us – my parents were not pleased). 

Hanukkah at the Levinson's

Hanukkah at the Levinson's

Although I never had a tree, I was always invited to a friend’s house for Christmas tree festivities. When I was very young, we would visit our neighbor’s house for latkes (although the neighbor wasn’t Jewish, she was raised in a Jewish neighborhood in NJ and made great latkes) and Christmas tree decorating. As I grew up, I was invited on trips to a local tree farm, Harmon Farms, for cider and tree cutting.  In return, we always invited our friends over for a night of Hanukkah. My mom, Rachel Barnett, would cook latkes and make brisket, we’d light the candles, and play dreidel. Our friends begged to come over for Hanukkah each year. I suppose it was the only time they were ever graced with the deliciousness of fried potato pancakes. I don’t mean to speak ill of any of my grandmothers or restaurants or people who have made me latkes in my life, but my mom still makes the best. I know she hates it – spending hours grating potatoes and making the entire house smell like the back of a McDonalds, but I haven’t found any that are better (recipe below).  

The author revels in her Hanukkah gift during a Hanukkah party. (Emily Levinson and her brother, Chase - 1990's)

The author revels in her Hanukkah gift during a Hanukkah party. (Emily Levinson and her brother, Chase - 1990's)

I have many great memories celebrating Hanukkah with my family growing up, but there is always one tradition that stands out from the others. I grew up in Columbia, South Carolina and attended a public school where we were usually only one of very few Jewish families. Even though Satchel Ford Elementary was decked out in Christmas décor, each year they invited my family to decorate a Hanukkah window display in the front lobby. We would spend a Saturday at school taking much pride in our Hanukkah themed window. My mom would then spend a day at school and read a Hanukkah book and hand out dreidels and gelt (chocolate gold foiled coins) to everyone in my class – which definitely contributed to my popularity (because who doesn’t like chocolate and gambling). 

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It’s a little bittersweet reflecting on my Hanukkah memories because sadly, we don’t do many of them anymore. As the baby of the family at 24 years old, our family has grown up and can’t find the eight nights to get together anymore. One thing that stays the same each year is that I still have never had a Christmas tree. I think this year, my non-Jewish roommate will be providing the tree, and I guess it’s my turn to learn how to make latkes. 

Emily Levinson (on right) with friends - Aly (on left), Bella and Abby (the furry ones) - celebrate a "golden" Chanukah!

Emily Levinson (on right) with friends - Aly (on left), Bella and Abby (the furry ones) - celebrate a "golden" Chanukah!

Mom’s Latkes

  • 5 lbs. Russet potatoes 
  • 1 medium sweet onion 
  • 2 eggs - beaten 
  • ½ cup flour  
  • salt and pepper to taste 
  • vegetable oil 

Peel and place potatoes in pot of cold water. Using a box grater, grate all of the potatoes. Peel and grate onion. Drain thoroughly in colander.  Place grated potatoes and onion in bowl, add beaten eggs, salt, pepper and sprinkle flour. Mix well. (The flour should be just enough to bind.) 

Heat oil in large frying pan. Once hot, place tablespoons of potato mixture into pan (careful not to splatter). Should be the size of medium size pancakes. 

Flip once when crispy on edges. (May take a couple of flips before ready to remove.)  

Drain on paper towels.   

Serve warm with sour cream and applesauce. 

Tsimmes

Submitted by Mindy Kligman Odle

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  • 1 bag of carrots, chopped into large pieces

  • 3 sweet potatoes peeled and chopped into large pieces

  • ½ box of pitted prunes

  • 1 can of cut up pineapple

  • ¼ cup of brown sugar

  • 1 onion cut up

  • A small piece of chuck roast or brisket cut into large pieces

In a Dutch oven or a stew pot; brown the cut up onions and add the cut up meat and cover with water. Cook the meat slowly until it softens and the water is absorbed.

Par boil the carrots, the sweet potatoes, drain and add to the meat.

Add the prunes, brown sugar and the can of cut up pineapple.

Put this mixture in a buttered Pyrex dish.

The traditional way is to mash the vegetables or the more recent way is to leave it in large pieces tossed together and cooked.

Bake for 30-40 minutes at 350.

Chopped Liver

Submitted by Lyssa Kligman Harvey

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It’s hard to believe that I now am the designated preparer of Chopped Liver in my family. Then again…no one else really wants to make it. It is a difficult and time consuming recipe. Cooking the liver and hard boiled eggs will certainly give the house a distinct aroma, so I always make sure and prepare it at least 24 hours before serving it. Chopped Liver is akin to liver pate that is usually served as an appetizer or as a side dish…hence the popular saying, “What am I…chopped liver.” It isn’t the centerpiece in a meal, even though it is a heavy meat dish high in protein and cholesterol. Chopped Liver is a dish of Eastern European / Ashkenazi origin that was commonly served in delicatessens. The first time I tasted chopped liver was in a sandwich with my parents in a New York delicatessen called the Carnegie Deli. It was huge. My father, Melton Kligman, happened to love liver. As a child, we would go out to eat at Morrison’s Cafeteria on Thursday nights just so he could order Liver and Onions. On Rosh Hashanah my mother, Helene Firetag Kligman, would make chopped liver and Dad would always make sure that there would be leftovers, so he could make a challah and chopped liver sandwich.

  • 1 lb. chicken liver

  • 1 large sweet onion

  • ¼ cup of sugar

  • 2 eggs

  • Gribenes frozen chicken fat (shmaltz)

  • Mayonnaise

  • Salt and pepper to taste

Boil eggs until hard boiled. Peel shells and set aside to cool.

Wash off liver and set aside.

Chop up frozen chicken fat (schmaltz).

Chop up onion into small pieces

In a large deep skillet, brown chicken fat (schmaltz) until very crispy, put on a paper towel to drain. The fried chicken fat (schmaltz) is now called Gribenes.

Brown the chopped onions using the remaining fat in the skillet.

Add the liver and ¼ cup of sugar and stir until the liver begins to turn brown.

Drain off the liquid from time to time and cook on medium heat until all liver is brown.

Let the liver cool.

Put the liver and eggs in a large bowl and hand chop until chunky or smooth, depending on taste.

Add mayonnaise and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve on a platter with crackers, raw celery and carrots.

After it is made, it will last in the fridge for 3 or 4 days. I like to make it a couple of days before as the flavor seems better.

Sweet and Sour Stuffed Cabbage

Submitted by Helene Firetag Kligman 

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  • 1 large head of cabbage

  • 1 lb. of ground round or chuck  

  • 2 eggs

  • ½ cup of instant rice

  • 1 6-8 oz. jar of grape jelly

  • 1-2 jars of chili sauce

  • A handful of Golden raisins

  • Salt and pepper

  • Large Dutch oven or Stew Pot with a Top 

 

Prepare the Cabbage

Take the head of the cabbage and cut out the stem and put in a pot and cover the cabbage with water. Bring the water to boil turn off and let cabbage sit for 10-15 minutes. Drain the cabbage and peel off the cabbage leaves. They should be soft, wilted and easy to manage. Let sit on a paper towel until meat mixture is ready.  

Prepare the Meat mixture

Make the instant rice. And put in a bowl with the two eggs and the ground beef. Add salt and pepper. Mix with a wooden spoon or your hands.  Make golf ball size meatballs with all of the mixture.  Put the Dutch oven on the stove and pour a little bit of chili sauce to cover the bottom of the pot. 

Prepare the Stuffed Cabbage

Take the cabbage leaf and place the meatball at the thickest part of the cabbage leaf and roll the cabbage leaf around the meatball, taking the thinnest part of the leaf and tucking it under the whole ball. It should be a nice wrapped meatball.  Take two of the smaller leafs and make it into a makeshift roll, which will stay together while cooking.  When you finish a meatball wrapped in cabbage, place it fold down in the bottom of the pot. Stack each stuffed cabbage until you finish the meatballs and cabbage. It should work out nicely. 

Prepare the Sauce and Stuffed Cabbage

Pour the rest of the chili sauce over all the stacked stuffed cabbages. Pour the Grape Jelly over the Stuffed Cabbage. Sprinkle the handful of golden raisins on top.  Cover and cook on low for about 2 hours. The sauce will cover all the stuffed cabbage. It’s best to make this at least 48 to 24 hours before serving and refrigerate. You can also freeze and reheat.  

To Serve

Use a large spoon and put stuffed cabbage in a shallow bowl or deep platter. Serve the stuffed cabbage with plenty of sauce and the raisins on top.

Kasha Varnishkes

Submitted by Lyssa Kligman Harvey 

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Kasha Varnishkes is a traditional Ashkenazi Eastern European dish. The word Varnishkes is a Yiddish word for a Russian small stuffed dumpling called Varenichki. Kasha is a buckwheat grain that is originally from Asia. It is a creative dish that has a distinct flavor but can be also thought of as a Jewish comfort food.  I can’t remember the first time I tasted Kasha Varnishkes, but it must have been as an adult. The Kasha grain has a strong, toasted flavor and that seems to be the secret when preparing the dish.  I remember only eating this dish at Rosh Hashanah, but it is also served at the Sabbath meal. It is an excellent grain and pasta dish to accompany a brisket or chicken that has lots of sauce or gravy. I started adding it to my Rosh Hashanah meal to add a traditional recipe to the meal. I took several recipes and combined what I liked to make the one I use. I think it would be fun to ask people who have no idea what this dish is…what they think Kasha Varnishkes is! 

 

  • 1 box of Kasha / Buckwheat groats

  • 1 large onion chopped small

  • A dollop of chicken fat/ schmaltz or butter

  • 1 box of small bowtie noodles/ farfalle

  • 4 cups of chicken broth

  • Salt and pepper to taste 

Cook the box of bowtie noodles and drain. 

Fry the chopped onions in the chicken fat or butter until they are caramelized.  

Put the Kasha on an aluminum foil-covered cookie sheet sprayed with Pam and toast the Kasha grain, being careful not to let it burn. 

Bring the 4 cups of chicken broth to boil and put in the Kasha grain. Cook on medium until all the liquid is absorbed about 25-30 minutes. The Kasha should absorb all the water. Mix in the caramelized onions. 

Mix the cooked Kasha, onions and boiled noodles together in a large baking dish and bake for about 20 minutes. It will be dry.   

Serve with brisket or chicken - The Kasha Varnishkes will be a good base for the gravy. 

Rachel's Collards

Submitted by Rachel Gordin Barnett

How I (Finally) Learned to Love Collards

When I was a kid growing up in a small Southern town, the staple lunch was fried chicken, rice and collards. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I could really appreciate those collards. Many Southern vegetable recipes call for pork for seasoning, but in my mother’s semi-Kosher Jewish kitchen, that wasn’t happening. So, to flavor the collards, a pinch of sugar, salt, pepper and butter were used.  I have “skinnied” my recipe now to use olive oil and chicken or vegetable broth to flavor. Italian seasoning and diced tomatoes adds a bit more “gourmet” taste.

  • 16 oz. bag of fresh collards (or one bunch – but will need to be thoroughly cleaned and chopped)
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 cup low sodium chicken (or vegetable) broth
  • 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes (or in season - fresh tomatoes work)
  • Small onion, diced
  • 2 tsp. Italian seasoning
  • Pinch of sugar
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Sauté chopped onion in olive oil until soft.  Add fresh collards, diced tomatoes, chicken (or vegetable broth), Italian seasoning, pinch of sugar, S & P. Give a good stir. Cover and cook on medium until vegetables are soft. Adjust seasonings to taste.