Everyone loves a latke — there’s no question about that. For the first two or three days of Hanukkah, it can feel like there’s no such thing as too many latkes. If you’re like me, you start with classic potato (the lacy, shredded style as opposed to mashed potato cakes, please). Then maybe some curried sweet potato latkes, and a few spiked with carrots, zucchini or leeks. Or hey, even beets! If it’s a fryable root vegetable, it has a place on my Hanukkah plate.
But then, around day four or so, latke burnout sets in: I’m still in the throes of celebrating the miracle of the oil that lasted for eight days, but I start to realize my entire kitchen (not to mention my hair and clothing) smells like greasy cooked potato, and I realize it might be time for something new.
That’s where this menu comes in. The first time I cooked it was last year, when Christmas and Hanukkah overlapped — it was my way of honoring my family’s (and many Jews’) longtime tradition of eating Chinese food on Christmas. But it was so well received and so utterly delicious, that I knew I had to do it again. It’s a homage to dim sum, but I think you’ll find its soul is distinctly Jewish.
We start with super flaky, intensely flavorful scallion pancakes, which, if you think about it, actually have quite a bit in common with latkes: Both are fried, both contain onions and both are quite addictive. The dough is simpler than you might think — just flour and boiling water. The scallion and sesame oil application and rolling technique are where the magic sets in, and I’ll walk you through that below.
Next, if we’re going to be having dim sum, I think we can all agree that dumplings are a must! Here, I’ve put a spin on a recipe I’ve cooked for years: spicy sweet potato dumplings. In my latest cookbook, “Hot Mess Kitchen,” I call them Third Date Dumplings, named for the fact that I made them with my now-husband on our third date. But with this particular version, I’ve added cream cheese. They’re one part vegetarian crab Rangoon, one part kreplach and all parts delectable. Plus, the cream cheese and sweet potato combination calls to mind the flavor of yam latkes with sour cream.
And finally, we’ve come to dessert. As it’s Hanukkah, I feel that sufganiyot are a must, but I have to tell you, I really don’t like having to inject jelly into cooked doughnuts. Rather, I place dollops of filling in the center of soft challah dough rounds, pinch them to seal and then fry. If a little bit of filling spills out during cooking, it becomes caramelized and scrumptious and adds lovely character to the doughnuts. Oh, and though you can certainly put any jam or jelly you like in yours, I like to fill mine with Nutella (or any chocolate-hazelnut spread). I roll these small, like doughnut holes, or Chinese buffet-style doughnuts, and top them with confectioners’ sugar and a dot of Nutella on top (because why not gild the lily?).
If you’re feeling balanced, you could certainly add a salad — might I recommend a crunchy cabbage slaw with a rice vinegar-based dressing? — though I won’t tell if you choose not to.
Note: Though the pancakes are best served hot out of the pan, they may be kept warm in a 200-degree oven for up to 30 minutes. Also, you may have noticed that there is no salt called for in the dough, nor post-frying. This is because the dipping sauce is quite salty. If you are planning to serve the pancakes without dipping sauce, feel free to salt them lightly after frying.
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup boiling water (plus a little more if necessary)
12 Tbs. toasted sesame oil
2 cups thinly sliced scallion greens (about 1½ bunches)
¼ cup vegetable, canola or grapeseed oil, plus more as needed
soy sauce and rice vinegar, for dipping
Place the flour in the bowl of a food processor (or in a regular mixing bowl). With the food processor running, stream in the water a little at a time, just until a dough forms. (How much water depends on many factors such as your flour or the temperature of your kitchen. You may not need all the water, or you may need slightly more). If you are using a regular bowl instead of a food processor, use a wooden spoon to quickly stir in the hot water just until a dough forms.
Run the food processor for an additional 20 seconds to lightly knead the dough. If you are working by hand, knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for 2-3 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic.
Pull the dough into a smooth ball, and transfer to a lightly oiled bowl. Roll the ball of dough around in the bowl to oil it on all sides. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Let the covered dough rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes (up to 2 hours).
Once the dough has rested, transfer it to a lightly floured surface and divide it into 6 equal pieces. Use a floured rolling pin to roll out a piece of dough into a 4½-inch circle.
Brush the top of the dough circle with one Tbs. toasted sesame oil and sprinkle with 1/12 of the sliced scallions.
Roll up the dough into a cylinder, as if you are making cinnamon rolls, from one end to the other, keeping the sesame oil and scallions on the inside.
Coil the cylinder so that it forms a smaller, fatter circle. Use the rolling pin to gently flatten the coil into a 4½-inch circle, continuing to keep the sesame oil and scallions on the inside. Top with an additional Tbs. of sesame oil and 1/12 of the scallions. Roll the circle into a cylinder, coil it as before, continuing to keep the sesame oil and scallions on the inside, and roll out into a 4½-inch circle again. Flatten the circle for frying as a pancake and set it on a lightly floured surface while you repeat the process with the remaining dough pieces, until you have 6 uncooked pancakes.
Heat the oil in an 12-inch cast iron or nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. Place a rimmed baking sheet lined with paper towels next to the stove.
Cook the pancakes one at a time, for 1½ to 2 minutes on each side, until golden-brown and crisp. Add more oil to the pan if necessary.
Transfer the cooked pancakes to the paper towels.
Cut the pancakes into wedges and serve with a half-and-half mixture of soy sauce and rice vinegar.
Spicy Sweet Potato-Cream Cheese Dumplings
2 large sweet potatoes (garnet yams), peeled and diced into 1-inch pieces
1½ Tbs. soy sauce
2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
½-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated
2 tsp. sriracha or other Asian chili sauce (to taste)
30 small square dumpling wrappers
Coconut or vegetable oil, for frying
6 oz. cream cheese
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the sweet potatoes until very tender, about 10 minutes.
Drain the sweet potatoes and rinse with cold water until cool to the touch. Transfer to a mixing bowl.
Use the back of a fork to mash the sweet potatoes until smooth. Add the soy sauce, sesame oil, green onions (reserve a pinch for the sauce), garlic, ginger and chili sauce.
To assemble the dumplings, lay a dumpling wrapper on your work surface. Brush the edges lightly with water (use a clean finger or a small pastry brush).
Place about 2 tsp. of the sweet potato mixture in the center of the wrapper. Top with 1 tsp. cream cheese.
To fold the dumpling, gently pinch the corners together to form a point and tightly seal the edges to lock in the filling. Make sure to press the air out of the middle of the dumplings as excess air will cause them to fall apart during cooking.
Transfer the folded dumpling onto a floured baking sheet or platter and repeat with the remaining filling and wrappers.
To cook the dumplings, heat 2 Tbs. coconut or vegetable oil in a large frying pan that has a fitted lid over medium heat. (Set the lid within easy reach.)
Working in batches, arrange the dumplings close to one another (but not touching) in the pan, flat side down, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until a golden crust begins to develop on the bottom.
Carefully pour 1/8 cup water over the dumplings, then cover the pan quickly and let steam for about 3 minutes. Remove the lid and let the dumplings aerate until the excess water is cooked away and the bottoms become crisp again.
Transfer the cooked dumplings to a serving platter and repeat with the remaining uncooked dumplings, adding more oil as needed.
Serve immediately with the dipping sauce of your choice. Some of my favorites include a half-and-half mixture of soy sauce and rice vinegar, Chinese mustard, sweet-and-sour sauce, or a mixture of honey or maple syrup and sambal oelek (fresh chili paste).
Mini Sufganiyot with Nutella
1 packet active dry yeast
Large pinch plus ¼ cup sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil, plus 2 Tbs. for the bowl
1½ tsp. salt
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
Nutella or other hazelnut chocolate spread (or your favorite jam/jelly)
Vegetable oil for frying
In a large mixing bowl, whisk the yeast and the pinch of sugar into 2/3 cup warm water, and let sit to activate, 3-4 minutes (it will become foamy).
Whisk in the remaining sugar, 1/3 cup oil, eggs and salt. Continue whisking until completely incorporated. Slowly add the flour, stirring as you go. Eventually, you should have a soft, rich dough.
Flour a smooth, clean surface (like a countertop or large cutting board) and turn the dough out onto it. Knead the dough for 5-6 minutes, until smooth and elastic (alternately, this may be done in a stand mixer for 2-3 minutes). Form the dough into a large ball.
Clean the dough debris from the bowl you mixed it in, and pour about 2 Tbs. of oil into it.
Place the dough in the oiled bowl and roll it around to make sure it is completely covered with the oil. Cover the bowl with a clean dishtowel and place in a warm spot. Let rise for 1 hour, or until roughly doubled in size.
Lightly flour a counter or cutting board. Gently punch the dough down, remove it from the bowl and transfer it onto the lightly floured surface. Roll the dough out to about ½-inch thick. Use a small juice glass, wine glass or small biscuit cutter to cut the dough into 2-inch circles. Gather scraps and re-roll until all the dough has been cut into circles.
Place 1½ tsp. Nutella (or your filling of choice) in the center of a round of dough. Dip your finger or a pastry brush in water and lightly run it around the edge of the circle. Cover with a second round of dough and gently fold the edge of the lower circle of dough over the upper circle to seal tightly. Repeat with remaining dough rounds.
Pour 3-4 inches of vegetable oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot.
Heat over medium-high heat to about 350 degrees. (If you don’t have a thermometer, check by dropping a small piece of dough into the bubbling oil — the oil is ready when the dough quickly puffs and browns.)
Fry the sufganiyot, working in batches, until brown and puffy, 1½ to 2 minutes. (Watch them the whole time as they cook. Use tongs or a metal slotted spoon to carefully flip them as necessary.
Remove cooked doughnuts from the hot oil using tongs and drain on paper towels. Let cool until warm (not hot) to the touch. Dust with powdered sugar and top each doughnut with a dot of Nutella (or your filling of choice).
Serve warm or at room temperature.