It's a meeting of holidays so rare it will be tens of thousands of years before it happens again. Thanksgiving and the first day of Hanukkah -- the Jewish Festival of Lights -- fall on the same day this year, creating what many celebrants have dubbed "Thanksgivukkah." And it's opened up a whole new world of culinary opportunities.
Laura Frankel, executive chef for Wolfgang Puck Kosher Catering in Chicago, mused that the two holidays occurring in tandem presents a sort of mini existential crisis: "Do I celebrate as a Jewish American or as an American Jew."
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She decided on the latter.
"After all," she said, "I feel blessed to live in a country where we are free to celebrate our religious beliefs however we want. And that's not something one should take for granted in this world."
Plus, Frankel feels the holidays work well together in a traditional as well as a culinary sense. Both Thanksgiving and Hanukkah are celebrations of appreciation, says Frankel. The former is about being grateful for our country and the latter fetes the miracle of a small amount of oil burning for eight days and the dedication of the new temple in Jerusalem.
As far as the food is concerned, both holidays are filled with traditions rather than hard and fast rules. "Hanukkah is one of the few Jewish holidays when we're not specifically told what to eat," Frankel says. Frying foods in oil is really symbolic rather than essential.
So on Thanksgiving itself, Frankel plans on bringing a little Hanukkah spirit to her traditional Thanksgiving dinner by, for one thing, serving sweet potato latkes with a cranberry-apple sauce alongside the turkey.
The key to the sweet potato latkes is to start with a white potato, such as a russet, to make the batter, then add shredded sweet potatoes. On their own, sweet potatoes don't have enough starch to hold together well and contain too much sugar, which causes them to burn easily, she says. The blend will give you perfectly crisp and golden, but slightly sweet latkes.
Bruce Aidells, chef and author of "The Great Meat Cookbook," is bringing Hanukkah to his Turkey Day with some sides as well. He and his wife Nancy Oakes, chef-owner of Boulevard in San Francisco, will start the meal with crispy, mini potato latkes topped with caviar (though Aidells says smoked salmon makes a great topping, as well).
To go along with his bird, Aidells will take some inspiration from his grandmother, who owned a Jewish deli in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, and make a sweet potato, prune and carrot tzimmes, which is a typical Eastern European sweet stew often served at holidays.
"The sweet potatoes and carrots will fit right in with the Thanksgiving theme," says Aidells.
Associated Press recipe developer Alison Ladman offers another take on the bird. She started with all the makings of a traditional Jewish holiday meal -- pastrami, horseradish and matzo -- and paired them with turkey tenderloins. She wraps the tenderloins in pastrami, coats them in matzo and fries them until crisp on the outside, but moist and tender inside.
The breaded pastrami wrap on the turkey adds a great "skin" to the otherwise simple turkey tenderloin. The pickled onions have a subtle bite from the horseradish.
Chef Frankel is thinking sufganiyot as well, but taking the idea a step further by making the traditional yeast dough with the addition of canned pumpkin, which she says adds great flavor and color. For other nights during Hanukkah this year, Frankel says she she'll take advantage of the availability of fresh turkey.
Paula Shoyer, a pastry chef and culinary instructor who lives in Chevy Chase, Md., took some time before deciding on Thanksgiving Babka for dessert.
"A rich, sweet yeast bread with ribbons of cranberry sauce baked into the twists of dough," is how Shoyer, author of "The Holiday Kosher Baker: Traditional and Contemporary Jewish Desserts" (Sterling, 2013), describes it. "It's not overly sweet; feel free to double the recipe and serve half during the main meal.
"Whatever you do, make sure Thanksgivukkah does not overtake your cooking and baking enthusiasm for the rest of the Jewish Festival of Lights, which continues through Dec. 5," she adds.