It’s a meeting of holidays so rare it will be tens of thousands of years before it happens again. Thanksgiving and the first day of Hanukkah — the Jewish Festival of Lights — fall on the same day this year, creating what many celebrants have dubbed “Thanksgivukkah.” And it’s opened up a whole new world of culinary opportunities.
Laura Frankel, executive chef for Wolfgang Puck Kosher Catering in Chicago, mused that the two holidays occurring in tandem presents a sort of mini existential crisis: “Do I celebrate as a Jewish American or as an American Jew.”
She decided on the latter.
“After all,” she said, “I feel blessed to live in a country where we are free to celebrate our religious beliefs however we want. And that’s not something one should take for granted in this world.”
Plus, Frankel feels the holidays work well together in a traditional as well as a culinary sense. Both Thanksgiving and Hanukkah are celebrations of appreciation, says Frankel. The former is about being grateful for our country and the latter fetes the miracle of a small amount of oil burning for eight days and the dedication of the new temple in Jerusalem.
As far as the food is concerned, both are holidays are filled with traditions rather than hard and fast rules. “Hanukkah is one of the few Jewish holidays when we’re not specifically told what to eat,” Frankel says. Frying foods in oil is really symbolic rather than essential.
So on Thanksgiving itself, Frankel plans on bringing a little Hanukkah spirit to her traditional Thanksgiving dinner by, for one thing, serving sweet potato latkes with a cranberry-apple sauce alongside the turkey.
The key to the sweet potato latkes is to start with a white potato, such as a russet, to make the batter, then add shredded sweet potatoes. On their own, sweet potatoes don’t have enough starch to hold together well and contain too much sugar, which causes them to burn easily, she says. The blend will give you perfectly crisp and golden, but slightly sweet latkes.
Bruce Aidells, chef and author of “The Great Meat Cookbook,” is bringing Hanukkah to his Turkey Day with some sides as well. He and his wife Nancy Oakes, chef-owner of Boulevard in San Francisco, will start the meal with crispy, mini potato latkes topped with caviar (though Aidells says smoked salmon makes a great topping, as well).
To go along with his bird, Aidells will take some inspiration from his grandmother, who owned a Jewish deli in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, and make a sweet potato, prune and carrot tzimmes, which is a typical Eastern European sweet stew often served at holidays.
“The sweet potatoes and carrots will fit right in with the Thanksgiving theme,” says Aidells.
For dessert, Aidells suggests a variation on the traditional Hanukkah doughnuts, sufganiyot, filled or topped with a sweet cranberry or apple compote.
Laura Frankel is thinking sufganiyot as well, but taking the idea a step further by making the traditional yeast dough with the addition of canned pumpkin, which she says adds great flavor and color.
For other nights during Hanukkah this year, Frankel says she she’ll take advantage of the availability of fresh turkey. She’s created a turkey spiedini in which bite-size chunks of breast meat will be threaded onto skewers, dipped in lightly beaten egg whites, then dusted with seasoned panko breadcrumbs and fried in olive oil. For dipping, she’ll serve the spiedinis with a roasted pumpkin seed, garlic, raisin and sage pesto.
To help you get in the Thanksgiving-Hanukkah mood, we’ve developed a delicious holiday hybrid. These latke-crusted turkey cutlets can be made with leftover brisket (perhaps from the first night of Hanukkah), or if you like you can leave the meat out of the latke batter with equally good results. The Meyer lemon applesauce makes a perfect topping for this crispy dish, but leftover cranberry sauce would work as well.
Latke Crusted Turkey Cutlets
Start to finish: 25 minutes
10 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup grated sweet onion
20-ounce bag fresh shredded potatoes (about 4 cups)
3/4 pound finely shredded or chopped cooked brisket or corned beef
4 egg whites, whisked until frothy
1 1/4 pounds fresh turkey breast cutlets
2 whole eggs, lightly beaten
Peanut or vegetable oil, for frying
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a small bowl, whisk together 6 tablespoons of the flour, the salt, pepper and baking powder. Set aside.
Place the grated onion on a clean dish cloth or several layers of paper towels, gather up the edges to form a bundle. Holding the bundle over the sink, squeeze out at much liquid as possible.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the onion, potatoes, brisket, flour mixture and egg whites. Mix well to make a batter that is loose, but holds together well, adding a bit more flour if necessary. Set aside.
Place the remaining 4 tablespoons of flour in a wide, shallow bowl. Place the 2 whole eggs in a second wide, shallow bowl.
To prepare the cutlets, one at a time dip each first in the flour, then the beaten eggs. Then use your hands press 1/3 cup of the potato mixture evenly onto one side of each cutlet.
In a large skillet over medium-high, heat about a 1/4-inch of oil until a shred of potato dropped into the oil sizzles immediately.
Working in batches, add the cutlets potato side down, to the skillet. Cook until the potatoes are crispy and browned and the turkey is no longer pink at the center, four to five minutes. Press another 1/3 cup of the potato mixture on top of each turkey cutlet, then flip and brown on the second side for another 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet, then repeat with remaining cutlets.
Bake for 10 minutes, or until the turkey reaches 165 degrees at the center.
Serve immediately with Meyer lemon applesauce.
Meyer Lemon Applesauce
Start to finish: 30 minutes
Makes about 3 cups
4 large apples, peeled, cored and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
Zest and juice of 1 Meyer lemon
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch of kosher salt
In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, combine the apples, sugar, water, lemon zest and juice, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Cook, stirring often, until the apples are very soft and some have broken down completely, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve the applesauce warm or chilled. The applesauce will keep, tightly covered in the refrigerator, for one week.