Fry To Remember | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

Fry To Remember

Fry To Remember

Zalabia Courtesy of Leah Hadad | German Fried Potatoes Courtesy of Ronnie Fein

From a free-form fritter from the Middle East to German Fried Potatoes, Chanukah’s Symbolic Treats.

Facebook icon
Twitter icon
Digg icon
e-mail icon

When it comes to the Jewish holidays, traditional foods are served alongside heaping helpings of memory and identity.

For Leah Hadad, a lawyer-turned-recipe-developer-entrepreneur, whose company, Tribes-a-Dozen, produces Voila! Hallah kosher bread mixes, Chanukah food and traditions “symbolize the dual identity that is the experience of a child of immigrants.”

Hadad’s family traces its history back to Yemen, but she was born in Israel and now lives in the United States. As a child in Israel she experienced a festive mix of Israeli/Ashkenazi games, songs and sufganyiot (jelly doughnuts) at school, while at home “there was not much fanfare” — a few coins and lighting of candles.

But there was also zalabia, a kind of free-form fried fritter beloved in the Middle East and North Africa. The common denominator between the doughnuts and the fritters, of course, is the oil that gives the holiday its symbolic jolt, one that ties Jews from very different cultures together and is a potent reminder of Chanukah’s themes of religious freedom and liberation.

Zalabia is a vegan dish made with a flour-sugar-yeast batter. Hadad says it’s traditional to eat zalabia plain, straight from the fryer, although some people serve it drizzled with honey or sugar syrup, or sprinkled with powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar or even a slather of jam.

These days, in her community in Washington, D.C., Hadad is happy to celebrate the American way, by mixing traditions: sufganyiot, zalabia, and potato latkes. In fact, several years ago she won a latke contest even though she was the only non-Ashkenazi woman who competed.

In my family, Chanukah is very different. We light candles of course, but we celebrate in an old-fashioned German way, with roasted goose and all the accompaniments: braised red cabbage, applesauce or bread-apple stuffing, Brussels sprouts, and a gravy made with bountiful amounts of a sweet German wine such as a riesling. I can’t say it’s an old family tradition; it’s something I started many years ago just because it sounded delicious (it is!). To this day though, Jewish families in Germany and eastern France still feast on a similar holiday goose dinner.

Sometimes I serve potato latkes with the goose, but more often I make German Fried Potatoes cooked in goose fat. My mother used to serve these with roasted capon or chicken (she used chicken schmaltz). German Fried Potatoes cook to a gorgeous russet-gold brown with a crunchy paprika-goose fat crust. Inside is all soft, mineral-laden potato flesh. Most of the time I triple the recipe because this dish is well-loved at our house (and if there are any left over, they make a fabulous side dish for breakfast eggs).

No matter what your background, Chanukah is a time to celebrate. The food is not usually your everyday fare. It’s a treat to be savored maybe once a year and enjoyed for both its flavor and its symbolic meaning. When you’re cooking for your celebration this year, try out these two treats from the Yemenite and German traditions.


Leah Hadad’s Zalabia:


Ronnie Fein’s German Fried Potatoes:


Ronnie Fein is a cookbook author, food writer and cooking teacher in Stamford. She is the author of The Modern Kosher Kitchen and Hip Kosher. Visit her food blog, Kitchen Vignettes, at www.ronniefein.com, friend on Facebook at RonnieVailFein, Twitter at @RonnieVFein, Instagram at RonnieVFein.

Join The Discussion