Little hands at Hanukkah Snack symbols: Easy holiday food treats help celebrate Jewish history and family togetherness.

December 13, 1995|By Joan Nathan | Joan Nathan,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

Hanukkah has always been a relatively minor holiday in the Jewish religion. In the United States, however, it has assumed major importance because it falls close to Christmas. It begins this Sunday evening. A winter solstice holiday in the ancient world, the celebration later became imbued with a patriotic message, the story of triumph in a struggle for religious freedom.

In Jerusalem, over 2,000 years ago, the Jewish Maccabees defeated Syrian King Antiochus' huge army, which had been trying to make the Israelites give up their religion. Upon their victory, the Maccabees returned to the ransacked Temple in Jerusalem, hoping to rekindle the eternal lights that stood as symbols of their enduring faith. Although there was only enough oil to last one night, the flame miraculously glowed for eight days and nights, allowing the Jews enough time to make the oil needed to keep the eternal lights aflame. Today, the celebration of Hanukkah commemorates this event.

With today's busy lives, two-job households and constantly ringing telephones, many families are losing that special time together. Perhaps more than any other holiday, Hanukkah is a great opportunity for families to come together, thinking of each other as they make and buy gifts, and gather together in the preparation and enjoyment of the special holiday meal.

Because of the holiday's symbols, such as the dreidel, the top that children spin to earn golden chocolate coins called gelt, Hanukkah is a perfect vehicle to introduce children to the many aspects of Judaism and also to have some fun as they help to prepare some of the special foods.

Other holiday symbols include the menorah, which represents the enduring faith of the Jewish people, and the oil itself, whose significance is highlighted in the preparation of fried foods, such as potato latkes or pancakes.

This Hanukkah season try making edible menorahs out of cupcakes or even chocolate sandwich cookie crust filled with ice cream. You can also take a piece of bread, smear it with peanut butter, place pretzels on top to represent the candles and use raisins for the lights. Or have your children cut out their own Hanukkah sandwiches in the shape of holiday symbols while you pack candy kiss dreidels for school lunches.

As for latkes, they aren't just potato pancakes anymore. This central dish served at Hanukkah time presents a great opportunity to encourage children to eat other vegetables such as carrots, zucchini and even beets, by using these ingredients in delicious veggie latkes. When they have helped in the preparation of the food, children are more eager to taste their own creations.

One last word to the wise parent, care giver or older sibling: Before you begin cooking, fill your sink with warm, sudsy water. Let your children know early on that cleaning up as you go along is also part of the activity and can even be part of the fun.

Edible dreidel

Makes 1 dreidel

1 toothpick

1 marshmallow

1 chocolate kiss, unwrapped

Thread toothpick through center of marshmallow. Carefully add chocolate kiss, pointed side down, to 1 end of toothpick. (Remove the toothpick if dreidels are eaten.)

Edible menorah

Makes 1 menorah

1 slice white bread

peanut butter

9 thinly sliced small carrot rounds

9 pretzel sticks

9 raisins

Place bread on plate and press down to flatten. Spread with peanut butter. Arrange 8 carrot rounds in row along bottom edge of bread. (These will be bases for menorah candles.)

Place 1 carrot round in center above others for chamois, the candle that is used to light all others. Place pretzel sticks flat above each carrot round to be candles. Use raisins for flames.

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Dreidel sandwiches

Makes 2 to 3 sandwiches

2 thickly cut bread slices

homemade peanut butter (recipe follows)

raisins

sliced banana

With cookie cutters or knife, cut dreidel shape (or other Hanukkah symbols) out of bread, making sure to make 2 of each shape. Spread peanut butter on 1 slice. Place raisins and bananas on top. Cover with matching bread slice.

Homemade peanut butter

Makes about 3/4 cup

1 cup peanuts

1 tablespoon oil

1 teaspoon salt

sugar

Combine peanuts and oil in food processor or use mortar and pestle and pulverize peanuts until chunky or smooth, depending on your taste. Add salt and sugar to taste and additional oil for more creaminess.

Crispy veggie latkes

Makes about 24 latkes

2 large potatoes

2 large carrots

2 medium zucchini

1 large onion

3 eggs, beaten

1/2 teaspoon salt

freshly ground pepper

3/4 cup matzo meal

oil

homemade applesauce with cranberries (recipe follows)

Peel potatoes and carrots and place in cold water to cover. Use food processor with either steel blade or shredding blade to grate potatoes, carrots, zucchini and onion. (If you use steel blade, use pulse button or turn machine on and off frequently to avoid turning vegetables to mush.)

Mix together grated vegetables, eggs, salt and pepper to taste in large bowl. Mix in matzo meal. Shape batter into pancakes, using 2 tablespoons mixture to make each latke.

Heat 1 to 2 tablespoons oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook latkes, few at a time, flattening them out with back of spatula, until golden, about 1 1/2 minutes per side. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons oil to pan with each new batch. Repeat process until all batter has been used. Drain latkes on paper towels to absorb extra oil. Serve warm with applesauce.

Homemade applesauce with cranberries

Makes about 8 cups

4 pounds apples, unpeeled, cored and quartered

3/4 pound cranberries

1 1/2 cups water

3/4 cup sugar or to taste

Place apples, cranberries, water and sugar in large saucepan and simmer, covered, 20 minutes or until apples are soft. Cool slightly. Put mixture through food mill. Adjust sugar to taste. Serve at room temperature with latkes.

Joan Nathan is the author of "The Children's Jewish Holiday Kitchen," Schocken Books.

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