Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish festival of lights is all about olive oil. According to tradition, during the rededication of the Holy Temple (the Second Temple) in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean revolt, a small quantity of oil used to light the Temple's menorah somehow miraculously burned for eight days. Hanukkah commemorates this event.
Traditional menorahs did not use candles, they used oil. According to an Israeli archaeologist, the oil was most certainly olive oil. As Dr. Rafael Frankel explained, "In the Hebrew Bible, in the Old Testament in several places it speaks of pure-beaten olive oil for the light. Olive oil was the main oil of this region and very little other oil was ever used."
It is traditional to eat fried foods on Hanukkah because of the significance of oil to the holiday. Among Ashkenazi Jews, this usually includes latkes. Our favorite recipe for latkes comes from Bon Appetit magazine, and is adapted and reprinted here with permission:
Hanukkah Latkes Made with Olive Oil
- 3 pounds large russet potatoes (4-6)
- 1 medium Vidalia, yellow, or brown onions (about 2)
- 2 large eggs
- 1/4 cup fine plain dried breadcrumbs
- 3 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup (or more) olive oil (extra virgin or pure*)
- Sour cream
- Preheat oven to 325°. Peel potatoes. Using the large holes of a box grater or the grater disk on a food processor, grate potatoes and onions. Transfer to a large kitchen towel. Gather ends of towel; twist over sink and squeeze firmly to wring out as much liquid as possible. Open towel; toss mixture to loosen. Gather towel; wring out once more.
- Whisk eggs, breadcrumbs, salt, baking powder, and pepper in a medium bowl to blend. Add potato mixture. Using your fingers, mix until well coated. (Latke mixture should be wet and thick, not soupy.)
- Line a large rimmed baking sheet with several layers of paper towels. Set a wire rack inside another large rimmed baking sheet; set aside. Heat olive oil in a 12 inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat (should be 1/8 inch oil covering pan). Drop a small amount of latke mixture into pan. If the oil sizzles around the edges, it's ready. (Do not let oil smoke.)
- Working in batches and adding more oil to skillet as needed to maintain 1/8 inches fat, drop large spoonfuls of mixture into pan, pressing gently with the back of a spoon or spatula to flatten slightly. (If mixture becomes watery between batches, mix to incorporate; do not drain.)
- Cook latkes, occasionally rotating pan for even browning, until golden brown and cooked through, 2 1/2-3 minutes per side. (If small pieces of potato floating in the oil start to burn, carefully strain out.)
- Transfer latkes to paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain, then transfer to prepared wire rack. Place sheet with latkes in oven to keep warm and crisp while cooking remaining latkes.
- Serve warm latkes with applesauce and sour cream.
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* Tip: You can make latkes with extra virgin olive oil or you can use olive oil (sometimes marked as "classic" or "pure" olive oil). Olive oil contains a mixture of refined and extra virgin olive oil and is an economical choice for frying.