Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of the oil, and for most American Jews, that means latkes - potato pancakes fried in oil.
But there are many other ways to commemorate the miracle during the eight-day Festival of Lights, which begins at sundown Dec. 20.
Indeed, there are as many ways to celebrate the holiday as there are communities of Jews.
In Italy, small pieces of lemony-garlic chicken are coated with flour and egg and fried for Hanukkah festivities. Jews of German and Austrian descent eat deep-fried breaded veal called schnitzel. In Morocco, Hanukkah couscous features deep-fried, rather than boiled, chicken.
From Hungarian relatives I discovered apple fritters, slices of apples in a light batter fried till crisp outside.
But the hands-down Hanukkah favorite at my house are soft, jam-filled doughnuts. I make a simple yeast dough, roll it, cut it, stuff each piece full of homemade jam, fry them, and toss them in sugar. Hot off the stove, what's not to like?
Variations on fried-dough themes, each with a storied history worth exploring, come from communities with ties through Eastern Europe, Greece, the Balkans, Spain, North Africa, and Israel.
They may be called pfannkuchen, zvingos, buñuelos, pontshkes, or sufganiyot. They may be made from yeast, cake, or noodle dough. They may be rolled into rounds or cut into strips. But they are all fried to golden brown, puffy and crisp.
Rabbi David Teutsch, local author of a new book, A Guide to Jewish Practice, remembers sufganiyot, a doughnut with no hole usually filled with jam or jelly, from the years he lived in Israel, when they were served everywhere.
And Ronit Treatman, a Israeli woman who lives here but travels back home regularly, says she has seen a surge in creativity in the preparation of sufganiyot by Israeli bakers in the last few years.
"They incorporate such local specialties as sesame seeds, dulce de leche, and various liquors in addition to assorted jam fillings," she said.
Sufganiyot are so popular in Israel for Hanukkah that one bakery reports making more than 250,000 per day during the eight days.
The Israeli specialty has spread to this country, with more locals making them for the holiday. Sonia Voynow, who lives in Mount Airy, says she and her daughter Julia love making sufganiyot for Hanukkah.
"It is a multistep process, waiting for the dough to rise several times," she said, "but the process is part of the fun."
For another local couple, Cheryl Bettigole and her husband Adam Zeff, senior rabbi at Germantown Jewish Centre, there is a special history to their Hanukkah cooking tradition. Years ago, when Zeff was studying anthropology, the couple lived for a year in India.
Bettigole remembered her desire to make a doughnutlike pastry to share with Indian friends during that Hanukkah they spent abroad.
She could not find leavening of any sort at the outdoor village market there, an essential ingredient for a light, fluffy doughnut.
The dough-balls she managed to create there were ritually appropriate, she said, but leaden.
Twenty years later, their Hanukkah table always includes samosas.
The Indian fried potato-and-pea-filled pastries recall both the miracle of Hanukkah and their time away in a country they grew to love.
And, in homage to their time in India, samosas require no baking powder.
Makes 25 to 40, depending on size
2 tablespoons very warm water (warmer than your skin, but not hot)
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 to 3½ cups unbleached white flour
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup very warm milk (warmer than your skin, but not hot)
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons oil or melted butter
2 cups (or more) of jam or preserves (apricot, raspberry, strawberry, or plum all work well)
4 cups vegetable oil for deep frying
Granulated or confectioners sugar for topping
1. Have the warm water in a cup or small bowl. Stir in the sugar and yeast. Let sit for several minutes until yeast shows signs of life. If no bubbling occurs in this mixture within 10 minutes, start again with fresh yeast.
2. In a large bowl of an electric mixer with the dough hook attached, or in a mixing bowl, add 3 cups of the flour, salt, milk, eggs, and oil or melted butter. Add the proofed yeast mixture to this and beat until well mixed and dough is smooth and elastic, 5 to 8 minutes. If dough is sticky, add more flour a tablespoon at a time. Dough will be soft, but should not be sticky.
3. Let rise until doubled in bulk in a greased bowl, approximately 2 hours, or overnight in the refrigerator. If refrigerated, bring dough to room temperature about an hour before rolling.
4. Turn dough onto a lightly floured board and roll with a lightly floured rolling pin to a thickness of 1/8 to ¼ inch thick. Cut into 2½- to 3-inch squares with a knife, or cut into 2- to 3-inch circles with a cutter or a glass.
5. The amount of jam used for filling depends on the size of the square or circle, but will be about 1 teaspoon. Place jam along center of the dough, fold over, and pinch or press the edges until well sealed. If cutting rounds, hold dough in the palm of one hand, drop jam into center, and bring edges up over the jam and pinch sealed. Double-check the seal on each one.
6. Leave the doughnuts to rest on a lightly floured surface so they can rise slightly before frying. Generally, the first ones filled will be ready to fry by the time you finish the last few. If you have many helpers and get the filling job done quickly, let the filled doughnuts sit for 10 minutes or so before frying.
7. Heat oil in large, deep pot to 370 degrees. Carefully slip doughnuts into the hot oil, cooking no more than 4 or 5 at one time. Turn often to brown evenly. Remove from oil and drain on brown bags or paper towels. If some jam seeps into the oil, scoop it out with a skimmer or slotted spoon. Roll fried dough in granulated sugar or sift confectioners sugar over the top.
Per serving: 91 calories, 2 grams protein, 19 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams sugar, 1 gram fat, 10 milligrams cholesterol, 41 milligrams sodium.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
1 (3- to 4-pound) chicken, back removed, cut into 12 pieces
Juice and zest of one lemon
2 teaspoons, plus about 1 cup olive oil, divided use
Fresh-ground black pepper to taste
2 cloves garlic, crushed or minced fine
2 to 3 teaspoons salt
Flour for dredging
2 to 3 eggs, beaten
12 to 20 sage leaves, to fry for garnish (optional)
1 lemon, cut in 4 to 6 wedges for serving
1. Place the chicken pieces in a large nonreactive bowl. Add the lemon juice and zest, the 2 teaspoons olive oil, black pepper, and crushed garlic and toss well. Refrigerate overnight.
2. Heat 3 inches of oil (approximately 1 cup) to 375 degrees, in a pan with straight sides.
If making fried sage leaves for garnish (and to season the oil) sprinkle fresh sage leaves over the hot oil. Press gently into the oil and cook 2 to 3 minutes or until crisp. Remove from oil to paper towels and set aside.
3. Toss the chicken with the salt, dredge in flour, and dip into beaten egg. Let excess egg drip off and carefully place, skin side down, in the hot oil.
4. Cook the chicken without crowding over medium heat, allowing enough time for each piece to cook through without becoming too brown. Remove to a rack to drain.
5. Between batches, scoop out bits of coating or skin to keep the oil clean, and return the oil to 375 degrees.
6. Keep first done pieces warm in a 300-degree oven until all the chicken has been cooked. Serve sprinkled with the fried sage leaves and lemon wedges.
Per serving: 532 calories, 91 grams protein, 1 gram carbohydrates, 16 grams fat, 326 cholesterol, 997 milligrams sodium.
Makes 24 servings
Juice of one lemon
2-3 tablespoons brandy or cognac
3 or 4 crisp apples, cored and sliced into rounds 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick (each should have a hole in the center)
½ cup apple cider
¾ cup unbleached white flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
Approximately 1 cup oil for frying
½ cup apricot jam, thinned if desired with additional brandy or water to make a thick sauce, or 2 tablespoons sugar mixed with ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon and 3 tablespoons chopped toasted walnuts
1. Mix the lemon juice and brandy in a medium bowl. Add the apple slices and toss to cover. Let marinate while you prepare the fritter batter.
2. Whisk the eggs and apple cider until well combined. Whisk in the flour, baking powder, and salt, until just smooth.
3. Heat 2 inches of oil (about 1 cup) in a pan to 360 degrees. When the oil is hot, remove an apple slice from the brandy, shake to remove excess liquid, dip the slice in batter to cover, allow the excess coating to drip off, and slip gently into the hot oil. Cook 2 to 3 minutes, turning midway through cooking to brown both sides evenly. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels or brown paper.
4. Serve with apricot jam or sprinkle each fritter well with cinnamon sugar and toasted chopped walnuts.