Latkes for Thanksgivukkah

26 Nov

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It turns out that it’s actually really difficult to put the experience of converting to Judaism–the beit din, the mikvah, the brief ceremony–into words.

I wish I could tell you that it was a warm, meaningful, holy, and blissful experience the day I officially became a Jew. It’s hard to describe what it was like in reality, but…well…it was pretty weird.

Don’t get me wrong, I am completely thrilled to be a member of the Jewish people and happy that the conversion happened. I love Judaism! But, when I look back on the day’s events and try to reflect on it as a story in my life–which I aim to share with others–I sort of cringe uncomfortably. I know! What can I say? I’m sorry, but it’s true. The conversion itself was a rather anticlimactic ending to a year-long (well, maybe lifelong) pursuit of a Jewish identity.

Oh, well.

I once had a creative writing professor in college tell me that I should put down the piece I had been working on and come back to it after some more time had passed–a few months, maybe years. “You’re too close to this subject right now,” she said. “You need time to process it before you can write about it.”

Today I am putting a pin in the conversion-event story. We will come back to that soon. I just need a little more distance from it.

***

Here’s a quick recap of what I’ve been up to during my blog break:

+ I cooked a boeuf bourguignon. It’s been on my list of things to accomplish forever. Yes, I used Julia Child’s recipe. No, I didn’t add the mushrooms (I don’t really like those). Yes, it took hours and hours to prep and cook. Yes, my apartment smelled amazing. Yes, it was unbelievably delicious. But I won’t be laboring over a dish like that again for a long time…

+ I watched the Boston Red Sox win the World Series. (Yay!)

+ Steve and I started furnishing our new apartment–it’s a slow process, but it’s going to be great when it’s done.

+ I am trying out wearing contact lenses. It’s taking some getting used to.

+ We’ve been exploring our new neighborhood. We love it. New Yorkers, can we talk about Popovers?!

+ We started running again–in the autumnal glory of Central Park.

+ We had two different dinners with two different couples from our “Exploring Judaism” class. As soon as we have a dining table and chairs, the dinner party is on us!

+ I spent lots of time at work since it’s really busy in the fall and Steve, too, has been in workaholic mode. We joke sometimes that we only see each other for about 20 minutes total Monday through Friday.

+ With very few exceptions, we’ve continued our take on Shabbat observance. Steve stays home and cooks a meal for us, while I attend synagogue services. We light candles, say the blessings, and eat. Sometimes we turn off all electronic devices for the remainder of the evening, sometimes we catch up on TV shows.

+ We made some darn good not-you-average-latkes in advance of Thanksgivvukkah. Goat Cheese-Stuffed Zucchini Latkes are just the thing to try this year. Seriously, you must make these!

thanksgivukkah

Before I share the recipe, I’d like to pause for a moment so that we may collectively acknowledge the historical moment in which we are living. This Thanksgiving will mark the first time in 125 years that the Jewish holiday of Chanukah coincides with the American holiday of Thanksgiving. Media sources across the country have covered the coming phenomenon (see here, here and here, for example). This cute kid even made and sold “Menurkeys” for the rare dual holiday.

Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston officially proclaimed November 28, 2013 “Thanksgivukkah.” In New York City, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will feature a giant dreidel. Have we Jews ever been so darn cool?

As gimmicky and corny as it may be, there’s a lot to love about Thanksgivukkah. Besides coming together as a family to celebrate two holidays at once, one obvious thing to love is the food. Turkey and gravy alongside latkes? Hello, delicious!

Latkes (a Yiddish word meaning “patch”) are traditionally cooked on Chanukah and made with potatoes. The oil the latkes are cooked in symbolizes the miracle of the oil in the menorah at the Temple. When the Jewish freedom fighters were holed up in the Temple during their war against the reigning Greeks, they only had enough oil to light the Temple candelabra for one day. But a miracle occurred. The oil ended up lasting for eight nights!

Steve’s mom makes the classic potato and onion latkes each Chanukah, and hers are hands-down the best potato latkes Steve and I have ever had. Done. No contest. Even my sister requests to come over for her latkes each year. Steve and I tried our land at her latke recipe once several years ago in San Francisco, but alas, they just didn’t come out the same. That our apartment smelled of fried potatoes for weeks afterwards didn’t help things, either.

Time-honored as potato latkes may be, there is no strict rule that latkes be made only with potatoes. I’ll be honest, my recipe for Goat Cheese-Stuffed Zucchini Latkes isn’t the easiest to pull off since there are a lot of moving parts, but it’ll add a little pizzaz to your Chanukah table. And, if there was ever a year for pizazz, this one might be it!

They’re light and fluffy and could be just the thing to serve on subsequent nights of Chanukah (re: when you’re trying to be a bit healthier after gorging on turkey and stuffing and potato latkes).

These latkes are great as an appetizer, or alongside fish. If you’re not kosher, they’ll taste great with turkey too.

*Recipe for Goat Cheese-Stuffed Zucchini Latkes* 

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

1 pound small zucchini
1 ½ yellow onions
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
2 teaspoons chopped lemon zest (optional)
½ teaspoon minced garlic
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 large eggs, beaten
½ cup olive oil
1 (5 ounce) log of plain goat cheese, thinly sliced
Tomato sauce (optional)

You will need a food processor to grate the zucchini and onion. You can do this by hand, but I don’t recommend it. It won’t be fast, pretty, or painless.

Here’s what you do:

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F.

zucchini

Wash the zucchini and chop it into pieces so that it fits in the food processor. Grate all the zucchini and onion. Squeeze dry.

vegetable mixture

In a large bowl, combine the shredded zucchini, onions, chopped basil, chopped lemon zest, minced garlic, salt, and pepper. In another bowl, combine the flour and baking powder.

combine

Add the flour mixture and the eggs to the vegetables and stir to combine well.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat for at least 3 minutes. Get it really hot. Add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan.

Add the zucchini mixture by tablespoons into the skillet. Leave about 1-inch between the cakes.

add chese

Immediately drop a round of goat cheese into the center of each pancake.

cover

Top with another tablespoon of the zucchini mixture to enclose the cheese. Cook until golden brown on the bottom side (about 2 minutes).

cooking

Flip with a spatula and cook on the 2nd side until golden brown (about 1 minute). Cook a little longer if you like your latkes crispier (I do). Remove from the pan and place on a baking sheet.

oven

Keep warm in the oven while repeating the above process to make rest of the latkes.

done

Add the tomato sauce (optional, but highly recommended). Serve immediately. Gobble up!

***

Wishing everyone a happy Thanksgiving/Thanksgivukkah/latke-making season. It’s good to be back on the blog!

***

{image credits: 1. Thanksgivukkah image from http://thanksgivukkahboston.com/ 2. Thanksgivukkah image from moderntribe.com. All other images were taken by Kate and Steve at Convert Confidential}

3 Responses to “Latkes for Thanksgivukkah”

  1. Helen TF November 26, 2013 at 11:23 am #

    Kate – I’m sitting here all pink with pleasure over your comments about my latkes! When you mentioned at the beginning the zucchini goat cheese latkes I thought immediately of making these for tomorrow (first night) but then realized that all that you, Steven and Abby would like are my classics! I’ll be going shopping later for the perfect potatoes and onions, free range organic eggs…..
    Friends – could anyone want a better FDI?? (a new term I learned: “future daughter-in-law”

    • Debbi January 28, 2014 at 10:34 am #

      Dear Kate,

      I’m an old friend of your FMI (a term I learned from her commend above) and just read your blog for the first time. Having heard about you for many years, I see that you are indeed delightful and am looking forward to meeting you in person! Meanwhile, this is a nice taste of things to come. . .literally! I’m sure Helen’s latkes are wonderful, but yours sound super delicious. Just forwarded to my daughter in NYC who is getting married a week after you and Steve. She is a vegetarian and big-time goat cheese lover and will LOVE these! Mazal tov on your conversion. May it bring you much happiness. And Mazal tov to you and Steve on your upcoming wedding! Ditto! Love from our Chicago clan. . .

  2. Adam July 11, 2014 at 3:49 pm #

    Hoping to see more from you. Your blog has been informative for me as I move through my conversion process.

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