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Thursday, December 10,2009

Entertaining ideas for your Hanukkah celebration

By Nara Schoenberg

Hanukkah lasts eight days, which is great news for kids who like presents and anyone who likes fried food.

But for the cooks in the crowd, there’s a certain — how shall we put it? — holiday-specific challenge to keeping the menus fresh and the ideas flowing.

For inspiration, we turned to Jayne Cohen, author of Jewish Holiday Cooking, who offered hope in the form of pomegranate molasses, fresh citrus salad, fish dipped in latke batter and smiley-faces drawn in sour cream.

We chose eight of her sparkling ideas, one for each night, starting with the all-important appetizers.

1. While you cook, keep the crowds at bay with a really good hummus, either homemade or storebought. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil or sprinkle with the Mideastern spice mix za’atar (available at Middle Eastern groceries and many well-stocked supermarkets), and serve with roasted vegetables or toasted sesamecumin matzohs (see recipe).

2. For a luxurious touch, warm your hummus. Mix it with a little extra-virgin olive oil and heat in a shallow pan in a 350-degree oven.

3. Make your latkes ahead of time. Cook them according to your usual recipe, and freeze the extras on a cookie sheet in a single layer until hard. Transfer them to a freezer bag or airtight container. When you’re ready to eat them, heat the oven to 400 degrees, set an ovenproof rack on top of a cookie sheet, put the latkes on the rack (so air can circulate, warming both sides) and bake until they’re crispy and hot, about 10 to 15 minutes.

4. Balance the fried foods with a fresh citrus salad. Try sliced avocado and grapefruit, or oranges drizzled with a little honey and some pomegranate molasses.

5. Speaking of pomegranate molasses, Cohen loves the stuff, which is available at Middle Eastern grocery stores and well-stocked supermarkets. Try a little in warm applesauce with a touch of sweet butter.

6. Make your latkes a meal by topping them with smoked salmon and sour cream mixed with dill. Add a salad, and you’re set.

7. Make your latke batter work overtime: Dip medium-size pieces of fish or chicken in it and fry them.

8. Give the kids something to smile about. Fill squeeze bottles (the kind used for ketchup and mustard) with sour cream or apple sauce and have the little ones make faces on their latkes. If you’re feeling ambitious, cut up some fruit for eyes and noses.

Toasted Sesame-Cumin Matzohs

Prep: 5 minutes Cook: 7 minutes Makes: 6 servings

A quick and easy “cracker” is made from purchased matzohs. Serve with hummus or other dips. It’s adapted from Jewish Holiday Cooking, by Jayne Cohen.

2 tablespoons sesame seeds 2 teaspoons cumin seeds 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil 6 whole-wheat or plain matzohs 1. Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Place sesame seeds in a small, ungreased heavy skillet; toast over medium-high heat, stirring or shaking the pan constantly, just until fragrant and light gold, 1-2 minutes.

Do not allow to brown. Transfer the seeds to a mortar or bowl.

2. Toast the cumin seeds in the skillet until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Add them to the mortar. Let cool slightly. Add salt. Crush coarsely with a pestle or wooden spoon or pulse a few times in an electric spice grinder.

3. Transfer the spice mixture to a small bowl; stir in the olive oil. Brush the tops of the matzohs generously with the mixture. Bake until fragrant, puffed slightly and just beginning to curl at the brown edges, about 5 minutes. Serve warm.

Nutrition information: Per serving: 211 calories, 51 percent of calories from fat, 12 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 13 mg cholesterol, 22 g carbohydrates, 4 g protein, 243 mg sodium, 2 g fiber

Via McClatchy-Tribune News Service.

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