A Jewish Perspective on What Really Matters this Holiday Season: THE FOOD

By Brian Hurwitz
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Being Jewish, I’ve always felt kind of left out when this time of year rolls around. Christmas is the reason for the season. Meanwhile, I believe Hanukkah to be nothing more than a minor holiday trumped up by marketing managers and advertising execs to prompt the Semites to join in on the seasonal shopping frenzy.

Don’t believe me? Then ask yourself what you’d rather come home to during the yuletide: a menorah and a dreidel or a tree and a wreath. And before you answer, know that along with his Naughty and Nice list Santa has a very carefully drawn map of every Jewish household the world over and, supposedly out of respect for the faith, makes a point of never dropping in on a single one.

Thus, it seems the only thing Christmas and Hanukkah have in common is the giving and receiving of gifts.

Regardless of religion, race or creed, when the weather outside turns frightful we’re driven to search from A to Z which, in our modern parlance, translates from Amazon to Zappos, in hopes of finding that perfect present for a friend or loved one. And we know they’re doing the same for us. I don’t know if it’s nature or nurture, but it feels like people everywhere believe such exchanges are the best way to express their feelings and gratitude.

For the longest time, I couldn’t claim to be any different. Those pretty, shiny paper-wrapped packages made me feel connected to the bigger, brighter festivities… until I realized that feeling stemmed from my childhood need to gain Santa’s approval and believe my name was on some draft of his “Nice List.”

Sure, gifts are great. But at the end of the day, in giving them, all we’re really sharing is a part of our salaries. Yet it was a jelly donut that showed me food, especially during the holidays, allows us to share part of ourselves.

Los Angeles is every bit as much of a melting pot as New York. Right now, people all over town are gathering ingredients for recipes that are so special they’re solely used once a year. Each one tells a story unique to the culture that created it and the families that revere it.

For Hanukkah, the Jewish community does a lot of frying to commemorate the rededication of the second temple in Jerusalem and a flask of olive oil that should’ve only been enough to burn for one day but somehow lasted eight.

Potato latkes are the most traditional dish made in observance of the occasion. If you’re unfamiliar with them, imagine a handheld hashbrown dipped in sour cream or applesauce. Thing is, Jews eat them all year long. Sufganiyot are a whole other Oprah and are only made during Hanukkah. Having just recently discovered the aforementioned jelly-filled donut treats, I began to wonder what other cultural delights I might be missing out on and thereby set out to satisfy my curiosity.

To celebrate the birth of Christ, Greek communities prepare melomakarona. A little orange-y, a little cinnamon-y and filled with nuts and honey, this egg-shaped dessert is meant to be consumed in two bites. I dare you not to scarf them down in one.

The taste is reminiscent of baklava, but the soft, spongy texture sets it entirely apart. Although they’re usually eaten on Christmas day, I’ve gotten into the habit of stockpiling a few to enjoy well after. But when you’ve got a sweet tooth the size of Texas, one country’s delectables are not enough.

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Buche de Noel 🎄 @amoredimona has been asking me for a gluten-free vegan Buche de Noel recipe for a long time now and so finally this year I’ve accomplished it! This is my third year having a go at this recipe so it was about the time I’ve managed to roll it out without it falling apart. I’ve made two different delicious fillings to choose from & the recipe is on the blog now. Sending much Love Hxx ✨ . . . . . #sponsored #buchedenoel #christmas #glutenfreevegan #vegan #plantbased #healthyfoodshare #eathealthy #veganfoodshare #bestofvegan #feedfeed #feedfeedvegan #letscookvegan #veganfoodspot #lifeandthyme #thrivemags #thekitchn #plantpowered #wholefoodbaking #foodblogger #foodstyling #nirvanacakery #foodforthesoul #beautifulcuisines #cupcakeproject #veganbaking #thebakefeed

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It would be an arduous task to try and calculate France’s numerous contributions to world cuisine. My favorite is the Buche de Noel: a sponge cake that is iced, rolled into a cylinder, iced again and finally covered with a variety of topping such as berries and powdered sugar. Tree branches and leaves fashioned from marzipan are sometimes added in an attempt to truly make this dessert resemble an actual Yule log. With that addition or not, I always look forward to polishing off a slice or four during the holidays before moving on to more savory dishes.

Koreatown is a treasure trove of epicurean wonders. Well beyond kimchi, there’s galbi (marinated short ribs), samgyeopsal (thick grilled pork belly) and haemul pajeon (fried seafood pancakes). Like potato latkes, you can get each of those year round. If you want a taste of holiday Seoul, head there for the dduk guk.

Painstakingly prepared and eaten as a ritual to start off the New Year with good fortune, it starts with a rich beef broth that is simmered for hours. From there, it’s choose your own adventure depending on the chef. Shredded beef, pork dumplings, julienned vegetables and soft-boiled eggs are popular garnishes, with the one constant being thinly sliced rice cakes that add a supple texture to a memorably silky broth. To me, however, the most unforgettable of holiday meals is something I’ve yet to find in any restaurant.

Last year a close friend told me her Italian grandmother would be preparing the feast of the seven fishes for Christmas Eve dinner. It is a tradition that commemorates La Viglia di Natale, the wait for the midnight birth of baby Jesus. Up to that point, I’d only heard stories about this legendary banquet and was not shy in soliciting an invitation. And when those dishes started rolling out of a kitchen that already smelled like a room I’d be happy to die in, I was ready to convert there and then.

Clams stuffed with bacon and baked to a golden brown. Fresh fried sardines. Linguini with lobster sauce. Octopus salad. Zuppa di pesce. Broccoli rabe and roasted pepper filled calamari in marechiara sauce. And the piece de resistance, whole branzinos grilled to perfection. I was so magnificently stuffed that it still stands as one of the few times in my life when I’ve turned down dessert. Thankfully, her grandmother wrapped up healthy slabs of tiramisu and Italian cheesecake to take with me as I waddled out the door.

So save the scarf for your nephew. Keep the gift card for yourself. If you really want to show me you care, I’d prefer a plate, a bowl, a slice or a serving of your cultural deliciousness.

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