Turkey and latkes share the same plate in unique Thanksgivukkah celebration

November 20, 2013

Nina Barrett/WBEZ
Kaufman’s Delicatessen & Bakery is preparing for Thanksgivukkah.

This year’s Thanksgiving menu may get a new twist in Jewish households, due to the holiday’s once-in-a-lifetime convergence with Hanukkah.

The impending convergence of Thanksgiving and the first full day of Hanukkah has become such a cultural phenomenon that it has its own Facebook page, Wikipedia entry, and a major Manischewitz marketing campaign. Not to mention a whole new Jewish-American fusion vocabulary.

At Temple Judea Mizpah in Skokie, Rabbi Amy Memis-Foler was trying out words like “Thanksgivukkah” and “Menurky” (menorah-shaped turkey) for the first time. She said the convergence was a cosmic fluke.

“Thanksgiving was formally established by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863,” she said. “Thanksgiving would have overlapped with Hanukkah back in 1861, except for the fact that the formal Thanksgiving was not established yet. So actually, this is really the first time that it’s overlapping, and it will not overlap again until the year 79811.”

In a nutshell, Thanksgivukkah means that never again will the chance to stuff yourself with stuffing overlap with the chance to stuff yourself with latkes, the traditional Hanukkah dish of crispy potato pancakes fried in oil and served with sour cream and applesauce.

At Kaufman’s Delicatessen & Bakery around the corner from the synagogue, customers didn’t seem the least bit intimidated by this culinary and caloric challenge.

“We’ll just eat more cholesterol,” one man said with a laugh. “You notice there are no signs here saying, ‘watch your cholesterol.’"

But for the owners of Kaufman’s — daughter-and-mother team Bette and Judy Dworkin — the menu questions are challenging. Hanukkah actually begins at sundown on the night before Thanksgiving and lasts eight nights. And since both holidays are major catering events for their business, they’re trying to guess whether customers will celebrate them separately, or look for creative fusion dishes that give the holiday that once-in-a-lifetime spin.

“We think,” Bette said, “and I’m going to stress that we think, that people are not going to celebrate both holidays Thursday.”

“I hope,” Judy added.

Bette said melding their menus might mean doing something different this year with her mother’s signature turkey.

“My mother has always made turkey for family events that was made with Manischewitz wine, blackberry Manischewitz wine," she said. "So we’re going to try and brine in blackberry wine — provided it doesn’t turn the turkey purple, ‘cause that really won’t go over really well.”

Distinct from other foods important in Jewish tradition, Hanukkah foods specifically pay tribute to oil.

Hanukkah commemorates an event more than 2,000 years ago, when the Jews won back the temple that had been seized by their oppressors. When they re-lit their menorah, there was only enough oil to make it burn for one night, yet miraculously the oil lasted for eight nights. That’s why Hanukkah foods, like latkes, are traditionally cooked with oil.

At Chicago’s Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership, which hosts a fully kosher division of Wolfgang Puck Catering, Executive Chef Laura Frankel said that this is a great excuse to re-think the Thanksgivukkah turkey.

“So I’m approaching it from kind of an American point of view where I’m going to have my turkey and I’m going to eat it too,” she said. “And I’m still going to put it in oil because I love the oil, and that is what Hanukkah’s all about.”

She demonstrated her suggested menu for me. Instead of a roasted turkey, she showed me how to make turkey breast schnitzel. She pounded it out thin and dredged her cutlets in panko bread crumbs flavored with fresh sage. Then she fried them up quickly in extra virgin olive oil — which, by the way, actually helps lower cholesterol.

“So it’s golden brown on one side, and now I’m going to flip it over,” she said as it sizzled deliciously in the pan. “And look how quick this is. You can basically have dinner on the table in half an hour on Thanksgiving. It’s crispy, it’s fried, I’ve got my olive oil. I’ve got my turkey thing going. I’m an American Jew on Thanksgivukkah.”\

Frankel’s Thanksgivukkah latkes combine the traditional russet potatoes with grated sweet potato, a great fusion because sweet potatoes alone aren’t starchy enough to hold together well.  These she also fried in extra virgin olive oil.

“Actually, I like to use duck fat too,” she confessed. “But you know, we’re celebrating the miracle of the oil on Thanksgivukkah, we’re not celebrating the miracle of the mallard.”

Let’s not forget one thing about the traditional Hanukkah latke, though: It’s already a Jewish American fusion food.

You can bet that potatoes weren’t on the menu at the first Hanukkah more than 2,000 years ago, any more than the pilgrims ate that green bean casserole with the French’s fried onions on top at the first Thanksgiving. Potatoes were indigenous to the Americas, and didn’t even spread to Europe until the 16th century. (Kind of like the corn the Native Americans gave the pilgrim settlers at Plymouth.)

The traditional Hanukkah celebration as we know it would be impossible without the discovery of the New World — a fact for which American Jews can always be thankful. For that, and for the invention of Alka-Seltzer.

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THANKSGIVUKKAH RECIPES 

Here are the recipes for Chef Laura Frankel’s suggested Thanksgivukkah dinner dishes. The sneaky secret tip she shared for both the schnitzel and the latkes is don’t use whole eggs, just the whites. Yolks will generally impart a cakey texture to either, whereas using the whites only makes them much crispier.

Turkey Schnitzel 

Quick, easy and you don’t have to wait four hours to eat your turkey.

Serves 8

  • 1 boneless, skinless turkey breast, cut into 1-inch-thick medallions
  • 4 egg whites, whisked with a tablespoon of water
  • 1 cup of flour
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 2 cups panko breadcrumbs
  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper
  • Extra virgin olive oil for frying
  • Preheat oven to 350

1. Place a turkey breast medallion in a plastic storage bag with a tablespoon of water (this keeps the meat from tearing) and with a mallet, pound the turkey until it is about ½ inch thick and even all around. Repeat with the other pieces of turkey.

2. Place the eggs whites in a large pie pan.

3. Place the flour in a pie pan.

4. Mix the fresh herbs and lemon zest with the panko breadcrumbs and place in a pie pan.

5. Heat about ½ inch of oil in a large sauté pan over medium high heat.

6. Season each turkey schnitzel with salt and pepper.

7. Dredge the turkey schnitzel in the flour, then the egg whites and finally the seasoned panko.

8. Place the schnitzel in the hot oil, be sure not to overcrowd the pan.

9. When the schnitzel is browned on one side, carefully turn the schnitzel over and brown the other side. Transfer the browned schnitzel to a parchment lined baking sheet. Continue browning.

10. The schnitzels can be frozen at this point or stored, covered in the refrigerator for up to two days.

11. Before serving, place the schnitzels, uncovered in the preheated oven for 8-10 minutes to finish cooking and to crisp back up.

White Wine Pan Gravy

Can’t be Thanksgivukkah without gravy, right?

  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups homemade chicken stock
  • 1 bouquet garni of: 1 bay leaf, fresh sage, parsley stems, 1 celery rib, 1 rosemary sprig, fresh thyme sprigs
  • 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms (optional)
  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper

1. Using the same pan to cook the turkey schnitzels, drain off all but ¼ cup of oil.

2. Return the pan to medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic and sweat until the shallots are translucent.

3. Add the flour and cook in the fat for 3 minutes to get rid of the raw flour flavor.

4. Add the white wine and stir constantly. Allow the alcohol to burn off (about 1 minute). Add the chicken stock and whisk.

5. Add the bouquet garni and dried mushrooms if using and reduce the heat to a simmer.

6. Simmer for 15 minutes, pour the gravy through a strainer and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

Apple-cranberry ginger sauce

This is a beautiful garnet-colored tart applesauce. It is a perfect complement for the crispy latkes. The addition of ginger adds a deep citrus spice flavor that balances the vegetables in the latke.

  • 6 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and chopped
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 whole cinnamon stick
  • 2 teaspoons chopped crystallized ginger
  • ½ cup apple cider or juice
  • Pinch of kosher salt

1. Place all of the ingredients in a medium saucepan. Cook uncovered over medium heat until the cranberries pop. Continue cooking until the excess moisture evaporates.

2. Remove the cinnamon stick and stir to combine.

3. The applesauce may be stored covered in the refrigerator for up to one week or frozen for up to 2 months.

Chef Laura's latkes

I like really crispy latkes that are only slightly creamy inside. I don’t use yolks in my batter as egg yolks make dough and batters tender. Egg whites hold the ingredients together but don’t make it soft or cakey.

  • 2 pounds Russet potatoes, peeled and shredded (after shredding the potatoes, place them in a large bowl with ice water - they won’t oxidize and turn rust colored)
  • Extra virgin olive oil for frying
  • 1 large Spanish onion, peeled and grated
  • 3 egg whites, beaten with a whisk until frothy
  • 3-6 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup shredded sweet potatoes
  • 2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper

1. Place the shredded potatoes in a large clean towel and squeeze out all of the moisture; make sure the potatoes are completely dry.

2. Place all of the remaining ingredients in a large bowl and add the potatoes. Mix all of the ingredients together until thoroughly combined.

3. Heat a large skillet with 1½ inches of oil. Drop spoonfuls of latke batter into the oil. Flatten it slightly with the back of a spoon. Brown the latkes on both sides. Remove to a platter lined with paper towels.

4. To re-heat: Place the latkes on a cookie sheet and heat in a 400 degree oven until hot.

Nina Barrett is a James Beard Award-winning food contributor. Follow her on her blog, Fear of Frying.