As Jewish holidays go, Hanukkah falls lower on the ladder, overshadowed by Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and — depending on who you talk to — a couple others, too.
"The reality is, Hanukkah ... it’s really not even like top three or four or five,” says Michael Solomonov, the Israeli-born, Pittsburgh-raised chef who’s arguably the face of Jewish food in Philadelphia.
That doesn’t diminish the December holiday’s culinary tradition, though, which recalls the miracle of one night’s worth of oil lasting the Maccabees eight days. Thus, Hanukkah’s trademark foods — crispy potato latkes and pillowy, powdered jelly doughnuts (sufganiyot) — rely heavily on the stuff.
“Those are the most celebratory holidays, the ones where you’re commanded to basically use olive oil and fry things,” Solomonov says, chuckling.
Solomonov ditched the doughnuts for the Hanukkah meal he recently crafted for Whole Foods. Yes, he paid homage to the latke with leek and potato pancakes, but he deployed oil in another way, too: frying matzo-crusted chicken cutlets marinated with the Yemeni spice blend hawaij into crispy chicken schnitzel. “Everybody that has ever visited Israel — whether you go high-end or you’re on a tour bus or a team tour — you have chicken schnitzel.”
To finish the schnitzel, and pull in another Israeli element, Whole Foods tops the chicken with apples cured with fenugreek and mustard; it’s a streamlined take on the tangy green-mango condiment amba.
Rounding out the meal are twice-cooked eggplant, charred then mashed with spices, sherry vinegar, and lemon juice; and green beans and mushrooms with tehina sauce, an ode to green bean casserole. (They jazz up the otherwise-straightforward beans with black beluga lentils and garlic chips.)
It’s a nontraditional Hanukkah meal, Solomonov says. But that might have its perks: When he was growing up in Pittsburgh, “the house, including our dog, our German shepherd, would smell like potato pancakes for eight days.”
$8.99 a pound at Whole Foods hot bars Dec. 18-24; a meal for eight for $139, preorder two days ahead at shop.wfm.com through Dec. 29.