Listening to the cooking shows on NPR this week, I heard a lot of kvetching about this year’s overlap of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, which can only mean more time in the kitchen, more restrictions to navigate, and more (little) people to entertain.
I say bring it on! Who, after all, has more to be grateful for than American Jews? Besides, this overlap happens only once in a century, and both holidays integrate sweet and savory seasonal food and allow for plenty of experimentation.
The big challenge for Jews observing Kashrut is to avoid dairy, which I am determined to do this year, not out of piety but to test the culinary elasticity of both traditions. We are throwing a Thanksgiving and a Hanukkah party on different days but I am preparing for both in a single shot. Here is what I am thinking for the menu:
About 10 years ago, my family and I decided to ditch the turkey in favor of the goose. Pilgrims included goose (and venison) in the original celebration, and if it was good enough for them it is good enough for me. Besides, goose tastes better and does not induce lethargy.
Goose is also a staple of Jewish cooking in Mediterranean countries, and though some argue it is not Kosher, I choose to follow the most liberal interpretation. In my family we use Julia Child’s guidelines on goose prep, the most crucial being that it should weigh more than 8 to 10 pounds and preferably never be frozen. We stuff it with granny smith apples which this year will play the part of applesauce.
Ordinarily we stick to game for our Thanksgiving protein but this time I am going to add my Hanukkah brisket, which is smoky, tender, and flavorful. It is exceptionally easy to make and best when prepared in advance.
POTATOES AND YAMS
I thought I’d miss the mashed potatoes this year, but then I discovered a treasure of a cookbook, Michael Ruhlman’s The Book of Schmaltz: A Love Song to a Forgotten Fat. It includes a terrific recipe for a potato kugel that is more tantalizing than a standard potato mash with its predictable butter and cream richness. Ruhlman’s kugel is also easier to make than latkes (a process that burns me every time, literally). If you want to simplify it further, consider a dairy-free potato gratin with schmaltz, leeks, tarragon, lemon pepper, and a splash of chicken broth. If you are cooking turkey or any fowl for Thanksgiving, make the schmaltz from the excess skin and fat. It’s perfectly kosher.
For sweet potatoes that pay a kumbaya tribute to American and Jewish traditions go to a masterful cookbook, OttoLenghi, by the superteam of Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Mamimi, who also penned Plenty and Jerusalem. They had to be thinking Thanksgiving when they came up with their Roasted Sweet Potato with Pecan and Maple Syrup, which they took one step further with the Middle Eastern accents of cinnamon and ginger.
Cornbread stuffing is a perfect side dish for fowl and brisket. To make cornbread Pareave, substitute almond or rice milk for milk or buttermilk and canola oil for butter. Add a generous amount of pulverized pecans to the stuffing recipe you are using and moisten it with a reduction of dry sherry and turkey or goose drippings in place of traditional gravy. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds on top.
This part will be the easiest to integrate into your Thanksgivukkah meal. I try to keep up with the trends without expanding too much energy on the greens. My standby is a dish of kale and haricot verts, blanched and then quickly sautéed in a wok with walnut oil and sliced Thai chili pepper (be careful; it is spicy). Black sesame seeds, ponzu sauce, and chopped cilantro give it a nice freshness that comes through when the dish is served at room temperature. For more green vegetable ideas, take a look at Edda Servi Machlin’s Classic Italian Jewish Cooking.
The best cranberry sauce I’ve ever made was inspired by Molly Wizenberg’s recipe for Cranberry Chutney. The Seattle blogger behind Orangette and the author of A Homemade Life makes a tangy concoction that will live beyond Thanksgiving and Hanukkah. After the holiday I strain the chutney to make a base for winter versions of Margarita, Mojito, and other cocktails..
I have to confess that I never liked Thanksgiving desserts, not on Thanksgiving, anyway, when anything pastry makes for an almost obscenely decadent closure to the feast. I feel the same way about Sufganiyot, the traditional Hanukkah dessert of cloying jelly donuts only a child could love. (Let them eat chocolate Hanukkah geld, I say.) I like my desserts all grown up and slightly boozy.
My spicy fruit compote is inspired by Claudia Rodin’s recipes in The Book of Jewish Food. For those determined to incorporate something pumpkin into the dessert I recommend a variation on a rice pudding as a nod to the Sephardic tradition. I found a lovely recipe for a vegan Pumpkin Sweet Brown Rice Pudding on the blog Meaningful Eats. I also liked Elie Krieger’s recipe for Pumpkin Rice Pudding which can be made Pareve by using coconut and almond milk instead of regular milk and given a Thanksgiving twist with rum soaked cranberries instead of raisins.
Whatever happens with these meals, I am just relieved not to worry, at least this holiday season, about the menu for the annual Christmukkah feast, which can be even more difficult to serve up.
I think brisket in general is highly overrated and that American Jewish cuisine relies too heavily upon it as a standard issue meat dish for all the holidays. The only exceptional homemade brisket I’ve ever tasted was 30 years ago, at the home of my parents’ friend, a Serbian woman who married an American and settled in the deep South. Occasionally such improbable couplings produce memorable results in the kitchen and this is one of them. The brisket fuses the subtle heartiness of Balkan meats with a Cajun smokiness. It is very easy to make as long as you remember three things:
1. Keep the baking temperature low or your brisket will be dry.
2. Do not use a cut that had the fat layer removed. Without that layer of fat your brisket will taste anemic. You’ll remove it at the end anyway.
3. Cut the meat across the grain into thin slices.
Brisket, 6-7 lbs, with fat
Seasoned salt, 1 teaspoon
Celery Seeds, 1 teaspoon
Garlic Powder, 1 teaspoon
Onion powder, 1 teaspoon
Black pepper, 1 teaspoon
Liquid Smoke, 2 ounces (1/2 bottle)
Worcestershire Sauce, 2 tablespoons
Any Southern BBQ sauce, 1 cup
1. Place the brisket in heavy duty aluminum foil. Combine the first five ingredients to make the spice mixture and spread all over the brisket evenly. Pour liquid smoke over the meat, wrap it up, and refrigerate overnight.
2. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Pour Worscestershire sauce over the brisket and bake, covered, for 5 to 6 hours. Cool the brisket.
3. Reserve the cooking liquid. Cut the fat layer and discard. Slice brisket across the grain and return to foil. Mix cooking liquid with Barbeque Sauce and ladle over the brisket. Place the brisket into the oven, uncovered, and bake for another 45 minutes to 1 hour. Serve right out of the oven or reheat.
Prep time: 45 minutes
Marinating and cooking: At least 12 hours
Serves: 10 -12
SPIKED HOLIDAY FRUIT COMPOTE
A staple of Ashkenzy cuisine, dried fruit compote is a light and easy to make dessert that can be repurposed after the holidays, if any is left over. I use the compote to make a more exotic topping for a scoop of ice cream. All you have to do is separate the liquid from the fruit, reduce the liquid to a syrup, and pour. Although I generally prefer California apricots, in this compote I use the Turkish variety because the whole fruit holds up better and makes for a nicer presentation. I also use fresh pear in place of a dehydrated one for just a little crunch.
6 Ounces Dried Apples
6 Ounces Dried Turkish Apricots
½ cup dried Cranberries
2 or 3 Bosc Pears, not too ripe, peeled, pitted, and sliced
½ cup sugar
1 cup of red wine
A splash of Grand Marnier
2 Star Anise
A sliver of orange peel, pith removed
1. Combine all the ingredients in a 4 quart (or bigger) pot and fill with drinking water. Bring to a boil.
2. Reduce heat, cover the pot, and gently simmer for 20 minutes. Allow to cool completely.
3. Remove the spices and orange peel and refrigerate for at least 6 hours before serving. Serve chilled.
Prep and Cooking time: 35 minutes
Photo Credit: Artmim/Shutterstock.com