Hanukkah Focaccia Is How I’m Bringing Traditional Ingredients to the Table This Year
Embrace the joy of colorful cooking with this vibrant, oil-rich dish.
Jewish holidays tend to revolve around eating (or fasting, and then eating). Our celebrations are made fun by traditional foods, which are often symbolic of greater lessons of the festival. We have apples and honey on Rosh Hashanah for a sweet New Year or charoset on Passover to represent the mortar the Jewish slaves used to lay bricks for the Pharaoh. (The meaning of gefilte fish is still a mystery).
On Hanukkah, we eat food fried in oil to remember to miracle of a small amount of oil lasting for eight nights when the Jewish people were rededicating the Temple — bring on the deep fryer! Usually the familiar scent of oil in the air comes from frying latkes to crispy perfection or deep-frying sufganiyot (Hanukkah doughnuts) before filling them with jelly. But I wanted to get creative this year when paying homage to the Hanukkah oil.
When you think about it, Jewish food is often brown (brisket, cholent, chopped liver, bourekas, biscochos,), so I try to incorporate color when I can. It’s a great way to spread joy through cooking and add extra fun to my favorite foods. I like to use customary ingredients like beets or dill, but I also like to think my Polish ancestors would have used guacamole as a latke topper or rainbow sprinkles in rugelach if they had these foods available.
As you’ve probably seen all over the Internet, creative bakers are using herbs and vegetables to create colorful (and tasty!) scenes on top of their homemade bread. Though focaccia is not Jewish per se, it is very similar to the Eastern European bread pletzel , which is traditionally topped with caramelized onions and poppy seeds (much like a bialy.) Whatever you call it, this oil-rich dough is a perfect way addition to your Hanukkah spread.
I’m never one to shy away from a theme, so I used several methods to make a focaccia worthy of Hanukkah. First, I added mashed potatoes into the dough (a variation which hails from the Puglia region of Italy) as a nod to potato latkes. This also gives the crumb a softer texture and subtle potato flavor. Next, I mixed in chopped olives, another gesture to olive oil. Then, I topped it all off with a menorah made of asparagus and other vegetables, lest you be confused which holiday you’re celebrating. Because of the amount of oil in the bread, you’ll get a delicious contrast between the crunchy outside and soft, tender middle. One piece of advice? This simple yet impressive recipe really comes down to ingredients, so use a good-quality extra virgin olive oil for the best-tasting focaccia.
Get the Recipe: Olive Potato Focaccia with Asparagus Menorah
Hanukkah is a time to celebrate with others, play and rejoice in the miracle of the season — and it’s so easy to do when you can gather in the kitchen (even virtually!) and work together to create a delicious dish. Feel free to get creative with the vegetables you have on hand and, most importantly, have fun! However you choose to decorate your focaccia, it’s going to be great. And, unlike the Hanukkah oil, it definitely won’t last you all eight nights!
Amy Kritzer Becker is the founder of the modern Jewish cooking blog What Jew Wanna Eat and author of the 2016 cookbook Sweet Noshings. She is also the owner of the cool Jewish gifts store ModernTribe. After a stint in NYC as a conference producer, Amy moved to Austin, TX to escape cold weather. Soon after, Amy left the business world to attend culinary school to work on her true passion. As she worked as a personal chef and did live cooking demos and classes at a local supermarket, her blog grew and gained recognition. Amy has had the opportunity to develop recipes, such as Avocado Latkes Breakfast Tacos or Pumpkin Fig Rugleach for numerous publications and she has spoken on the topics of culture, entrepreneurship, and food at events around the world like SXSW and Nosh Berlin. Amy and her recipes have been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, NPR, The Today Show, Food & Wine and now The Food Network. In Fall 2017, she appeared on an episode of Guy’s Grocery Games on The Food Network. Amy lives in Puerto Rico with her husband.