A Greek Hanukkah?

Greek Pancakes 1Is a Greek Hanukkah possible? Depends what we mean by “Greek”. But some delicious Greek-Jewish rice cakes are always in order.

The Greeks and the modern nation, Greece, are not what the Jews battled during the Hanukkah war. When the Maccabees stood up to the Greeks during that first Hanukkah, around 165 BCE, it wasn’t a typical war of that era.

Wars were, and are, bloody and horrible—that hasn’t changed. But I’d argue that until the Hanukkah war, most wars on the planet were largely about territory, wealth, and power, not religion.

Of course, all ancient wars in which the Jewish people were involved had ideological and religious components; you can’t be the only monotheistic people on the planet without getting into a skirmish or two over your beliefs.

However, the Hanukkah war was different.

It was a war in which a tiny group of oppressed people illuminated the ancient world, via a miraculous victory on both the physical and spiritual battlefields.

It was a war between two very different world-views.

In one view, God the Creator was due recognition, honor, and worship by the human beings He created.* He was the One God of Lovingkindness, and there could be no other.

You have to have a certain level of humility, not a trait beloved by the ancients, to believe in God. After all, by the very fact of His Infinitude, the human mind can’t really comprehend Him. How can you understand the Presence that created the Universe? It’s a power beyond our imagination.

You certainly didn’t bow to statues of Him.  He couldn’t be contained by form or limited by the physical attributes which He, Himself, created.

In Greek view, humans reigned supreme, there was nothing higher. In fact, the Greek Kings called themselves gods and demanded that they be worshiped. As if humans had the ability of creatio ex nihilo.

As a child, I was taught the Greek and Roman myths, the stories of the gods. In my house, for reasons I can’t fathom, Edith Hamilton was required reading. According to my upbringing, learning what amounted to as a soap opera starring particularly corrupt players, was considered to be a sign of a refined and classical education.

The pantheon of Greek and Roman gods easily belies their very human origins. The lives of the gods were riddled with jealousy, intrigues, immorality, murder, and other very fatal flaws and foibles. They’re not terribly inspiring but they are really lousy role models.

To the ancient Greeks, the human mind and the human body represented the highest form of perfection (which is why their gods mirrored human beings.) Beauty—of ideas or form and body—were greatly prized. So greatly prized that conscience, morals, and respect for life itself were either ignored or twisted in knots to fit a worldview where pleasures and power were everything.

One example: infanticide was common in the ancient world. Baby girls, physically and mentally disabled babies, and other undesirables (such as simply unwanted babies) were murdered at birth.  This continued throughout the era of the ancient Greeks (and Romans).

In fact, the murder of babies was openly supported by the “great” ancient thinkers and moralists: Aristotle, Plato, and the Roman, Cicero. Admittedly the ancient Greeks condemned child sacrifice, which other pagan cultures practiced regularly. However, the reason was the Greeks thought it grotesque to slaughter a child for the sake of a “god”; apparently the murder of children who were seen as unlovable or unnecessary was not grotesque.

There lay one aspect of the problem the Jews had with the ancients. Judaism categorically forbids murder, immorality, idol worship, and, much to the Greek’s annoyance, arrogance.

Also, Judaism believes a great thinker, teacher, or idealist cannot be divorced from his morals and behavior. In other words, the Torah has a hard time with hypocrisy and demands that you “talk the talk and walk the walk”.

When the Greeks and their Jewish supporters, called Hellenists, hailed Greek culture as the more desirable way of life, those Jews who kept the Torah and believed deeply in God, refused to follow their lead. Still, they  didn’t fight.

But when Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Seleucid King, banned circumcision, raised a statue of one of the Greek gods in the holy Temple in Jerusalem, and ordered that pigs be sacrificed at the holy altar—no longer could the believers standby.

And thus begins the story of Hanukkah which most of us already know.  Hanukkah history, practices, and customs can be found all over the web, by the way, so go ahead and peruse.

Breslov and Hanukkah

Many have heard about Rebbe Nachman’s emphasis on and connection with the Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. But on Hanukkah, Shabbos Hanukkah especially, Breslovers used to make a special trip to visit the Rebbe (many still do visit Uman, Ukraine, the site of the Rebbe’s grave, this time of year).

In popular culture, Hanukkah isn’t treated with the joyful reverence it deserves (this is so sad). Rebbe Nachman (among many other sages and tzaddikim) stressed its importance.

The Rebbe taught us about the relationship of Yom Kippur to Hanukkah, and the spiritual power and special attributes of this eight-day period, but only if we’re open to exploring.  Rabbi Chaim Kramer has a series of videos of the Rebbe’s teachings on Hanukkah. In all honesty, I have not viewed them yet (I can’t imagine how I overlooked these.) But I am planning to ASAP!

If you’d like to read about the sweetness of a Breslover Hanukkah, this wonderful book is a perfect place to start.

Tiganites or Fritoles (Greek Rice Cakes)

The Greek and Roman empires dissolved, but the Greek people lived on, and Jews lived for many years in the  beautiful Greek islands. They developed a varied cuisine based on fresh, local ingredients, Greek tastes, and Jewish religious requirements.

Dairy foods and fried foods, featured in virtually ever Jewish cuisine including Greek-Jewish cuisine, are both customary on Hanukkah.

Dairy foods are eaten because Judith (Yehudis), a brave Jewish woman, fed the Syrian-Greek general Holofornes cheese and he became so thirsty, he drank too much wine, rendering him unconscious. Yehudis then slayed him, thereby freeing her townspeople from his reign of terror which included torture, rape, and starvation.

Fried foods are eaten to celebrate the holy olive oil which burned for 8 days in the rededicated Holy Temple in Jerusalem, even though there was only enough for one day.

Naturally, there are other mystical reasons why we eat these foods. Remember, Jews have about a gazillion levels of meanings for every practice, some more material, some more mystical. Dairy, or more explicitly milk, is associated with kindness and generosity. Oil (and the menorah) are associated with wisdom. And so on.

I’ve mentioned Nicolas Stavroulakis’ wonderful book, the Cookbook of the Jews of Greece in other posts. He includes a few sweet pastry fritters (related to donuts) and fried pancakes to be served for Hanukkah. He lists variously named versions such as Lalangites, Zvingous, Loukoumades, and the two, Tiagnites and Fritoles, I mention below.

I was intrigued with these which were not only fried, but also contained dairy.  Instead of wheat flour, they used rice flour, which I happened to have on hand. One is called Tiganites and is made with milk and olive oil, dipped in a syrup and topped with walnuts and almonds. Even though rice flour doesn’t contain gluten, and therefore isn’t “tough” when first mixed, the recipe calls for letting the batter sit for an hour or more, as is done with gluten-containing, wheat-based pancake batter.

The other pancake is called Fritoles, which is soured or tenderized with yogurt. This makes for a more delicate, tender, pancake, perhaps buttermilk could be used, too. It is served sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, though no one will complain if you pass syrup or honey.

But I am in a quandary: I can no longer get kosher raw or even pasteurized, non-homogenized, grassfed (pasteured/freerange) milk and therefore cannot make yogurt or buy milk. I also cannot find kosher goatmilk, butter, or other dairy products that are healthful or tasty.  Except for the rare indulgence of cheese we are mostly dairy free. I should mention that though it is very hard to find good quality kosher cheeses, thanks to Brent Delman it is possible; see my post about him.

(By the way, I’m sure what it will take to convince kosher food producers to sell quality dairy and grass-fed, free-range meats, contact me if you have ideas).

Well, you are probably as tired of my venting as I am, so without further ado, here are my two dairy-free versions of Greek rice flour pancakes, perfect for those of you who are gluten free or avoiding nightshades (like potatoes) this Hanukkah. They are both adapted from the delightful and scholarly Cookbook of the Jews of Greece.*

HJC’s Tiganites (Greek Ricecakes for Hanukkah, Version 1)

Adapted from the Cookbook of the Jews of Greece by Nicolas Stavroulakis

Stavroulakis’ recipe calls for milk, I use homemade almond milk, but you can use store-bought almond milk or regular milk. I also use some brown rice flour, and add honey, not sugar.

1/2 cup brown rice flour

1/2 cup white rice flour

3 large or extra large eggs

pinch unrefined sea salt, Celtic salt, or Himalayan salt

1 teaspoon baking powder (non-aluminum)

2/3 cup almond milk (I used homemade) or half almond milk, half water

1 tablespoon mild-tasting honey or 4 teaspoons Sucanat dissolved in the almond milk, egg mixture

extra-virgin olive oil

crushed or chopped walnuts

cinnamon

honey

Mix dry ingredients in one bowl, wet ingredients in another. Combine, stir, and let sit for one hour or more (refrigerated).

Heat oil on medium heat in frying pan (careful, don’t burn oil). Depending on the size pancakes you’d like, use 1/3 or 1/4 cup measures. Drop onto hot oil and fry on one side, then flip. (These cook very quickly). Serve, stacked, drizzled with honey and sprinkled with walnuts and cinnamon. 8-12 pancakes.

HJC’s Fritoles (Greek Ricecakes for Hanukkah, Version 2)

Adapted from the Cookbook of the Jews of Greece by Nicolas Stavroulakis

Stavroulakis’ recipe calls for yogurt, I sour with raw honey and that vital ingredient, time.

1/2 cup brown rice flour

1/2 cup white rice flour

pinch unrefined sea salt, Celtic salt, or Himalayan salt

3/4 cup almond milk (I used homemade) or half almond milk, half water; you could also try coconut milk

2 tablespoons raw honey

2 extra large or jumbo eggs

extra-virgin olive oil

crushed or chopped walnuts

cinnamon

additional honey

Mix flour and salt in one bowl. Mix almond milk and raw honey, beat well until honey is indiscernible. Stir into dry ingredients, cover loosely, and set aside at a warmish room temperature. The raw honey will help to “sour” or slightly leaven the batter. After 4-8 hours, separate eggs. Add yolks to batter. Beat whites until slightly stiff and fold into batter. Pan fry in olive oil as for version one. Top with walnuts, cinnamon, and honey. These are puffier than version one.

*I’m using “He” to avoid awkwardness and senseless attacks on pronouns (he/she or the grammatically-incorrect “their”). There are both feminines aspects and masculine aspects of God in Jewish wisdom, but God is truly neither male or female.

*Note to religious readers, there are some images you may not find appropriate.

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2 responses to “A Greek Hanukkah?

  1. It’s quite interesting that just as during the times of Chanukah, child killing is quite in vogue in the U’S and Israel. In fact our president voted against the “infants born alive” act. Horrifying. Gd have mercy.

  2. Pingback: The Power Of The Chanukah Lights | BreslovWoman.org·

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