Pomegranate molasses brisket and potato latkes from “52 Shabbats.” (Photo/Clara Rice)
Pomegranate molasses brisket and potato latkes from “52 Shabbats.” (Photo/Clara Rice)

Hanukkah preview of ‘52 Shabbats’: brisket, latkes and challah fritters

The Hanukkah season is one of delight for young and old. For my children, it was the excitement of lighting the candles, opening gifts, spinning the dreidel and singing songs. For the adults, it was time spent connecting and remembering our traditions with family and friends and, of course, eating foods associated with the holiday.

Different Jewish communities and families have other traditions, but ours has been brisket with lots of sauce to eat with potato latkes (pancakes). Pomegranate Molasses Brisket is a family favorite and adds Middle and Near Eastern flavors to an Ashkenazi standard.

Eat the latkes with the brisket and sauce, or make them a meal on their own with lots of applesauce and sour cream. I also like to serve them drizzled with z’hug (Yemeni hot sauce), amba (Israeli-Iraqi fermented mango sauce) and/or harissa (North African hot sauce). All three sauces are available online or in specialty markets, or make your own with recipes from my 2011 column at tinyurl.com/make-your-own-sauces.

Challah Fritters with Sweet Tahini Sauce are another blend of Jewish traditions, riffing on the fried doughnuts and fritters of Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa.

All three recipes are adapted for space and style from my new cookbook, “52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen,” which will be published next month and is now available for preorder.

Pomegranate Molasses Brisket

Serves 8

  • 1 beef brisket or boneless chuck roast (4 to 5 lbs.)
  • ¾ tsp. salt, divided
  • ¾ tsp. ground black pepper, divided
  • ½ tsp. paprika
  • ½ tsp. ground cumin
  • 4 Tbs. vegetable oil, divided
  • 4 cups chopped onions
  • 2 Tbs. minced garlic
  • 1 cup (¼-inch slices) carrots
  • 28-oz. can diced tomatoes with liquid
  • ½ cup plus 2 Tbs. pomegranate molasses
  • 2 Tbs. tomato paste, divided
  • 2 Tbs. brown sugar
  • 1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
  • 3 Tbs. chopped fresh flat leaf parsley, cilantro and/or mint, for garnish
  • 3 Tbs. pomegranate seeds, optional
  • Trim the brisket of excess external fat, leaving a ¼-inch cap on top. Mix together ½ tsp. salt, ½ tsp. pepper, paprika and cumin, and rub the mixture on all sides of the brisket.

Trim the brisket of excess external fat, leaving a ¼-inch cap on top. Mix together ½ tsp. salt, ½ tsp. pepper, paprika, and cumin and rub the mixture on all sides of the brisket.

In a large heavy pot, heat 2 Tbs. oil over medium-high heat. Sear the brisket on all sides until well browned, 5 to 7 minutes a side. If the piece of brisket is too big for the pan, cut the meat in half and sear it in batches. Transfer the brisket to a plate and set aside.

Add the remaining 2 Tbs. of oil to the pot. Add the onions and sauté, stirring up any browned bits from bottom of the pot, until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the carrots and sauté for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes with their liquid, ½ cup of pomegranate molasses, 1 Tbs. tomato paste, the brown sugar, and the remaining ¼ tsp. salt and ¼ tsp. pepper. Stir well, bring to a simmer, and add the brisket, fat side up, along with any accumulated juices from the plate.

Cover the pot and lower the heat to medium-low to keep it at a simmer. Cook for 3 to 4 hours, basting with the liquid every 30 minutes and turning the meat every 60 minutes. If the liquid begins to evaporate, add ½ cup of water. Start testing for doneness at 3 hours. The brisket is ready when a dinner fork can slide through the meat without any resistance. Transfer the meat to a plate and let rest for at least 20 minutes before shredding or cutting it against the grain into ½-inch slices. (Chilling the uncut brisket and sauce separately overnight will deepen the meat’s flavor and make it easier to cut.)

Once the brisket is removed, stir in the lemon juice, remaining 1 Tbs. tomato paste and remaining 2 Tbs. pomegranate molasses to the pot. Simmer uncovered over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reduced by about half or until thick enough to use as a sauce, 10 to 15 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings by adding salt, lemon juice and/or brown sugar, if desired. The sauce should be on the tangy side of sweet and sour. Keep the sauce warm to serve immediately with the brisket, or chill it separately in an airtight container.

Serve brisket on platter with a few tablespoons of sauce over the top, and garnish with parsley and pomegranate seeds. Serve remaining sauce on the side.

If reheating, skim the fat off the chilled sauce, if desired. Reheat the sauce in a large pot over medium heat. Once it’s simmering, add the chilled brisket and reheat, stirring gently.

Make it in advance: Brisket can be made up to 5 days in advance and refrigerated in an airtight container. To freeze it, shred or cut the cooled meat into thin slices and store in an airtight container with the sauce for up to 3 months.

Potato Latkes

Makes about 24 latkes

  • 2½ lbs. Idaho, russet or Yukon gold potatoes
  • 1 large onion, cut into large chunks
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. ground black pepper
  • 3 Tbs. flour or ¼ cup matzah meal
  • Vegetable oil for frying

Set a wire rack over a pan, or line 2 plates with paper towels.

Scrub or peel the potatoes. Using a food processor (or hand grater), grate the potatoes, alternating with chunks of onions (this helps prevent the potatoes from browning). Empty the processor’s work bowl as necessary into a large bowl.

Working over a second bowl, take handfuls of the potatoes and onions and squeeze out as much liquid as you can. Place the wrung-out potatoes and onions in a large, dry bowl. Repeat with the remaining shreds. Discard liquid.

Change to the food processor’s steel blade. Put ⅓ of the potato back in the work bowl and pulse until finely chopped. (If making by hand, chop with a knife.) Add the chopped potato and onions to the bowl with the shreds. Stir in garlic, eggs, salt and pepper. Sprinkle the flour on top and mix well. Let rest for 10 minutes. Sprinkle in more flour if the batter doesn’t stick together when compressed.

Heat a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add ¼ inch oil. Take 3 to 4 Tbs. of batter and, working over a bowl (not the latke batter bowl) to catch drips, squeeze the batter with your hands to form a compact patty 2½ to 3 inches in diameter.

When the oil is hot but not smoking (a shred of potato tossed into the hot oil should sizzle on contact, about 350 degrees on a deep-fry thermometer), use a spatula to slide the first 3 to 5 latkes gently into the pan. Do not crowd them. Adjust the heat as necessary. Press down to flatten with a spatula.

Fry about 4 minutes until the center of the latke has become firmer, the edges have browned, a spatula can easily be inserted underneath without tearing the latkes and the bottom is golden brown. Flip latke over and cook until the other side is browned, 3 to 4 minutes. (If a latke falls apart during the flip, use the spatula to pat it back in shape.)

Drain on the prepared rack. Bring the oil back to sizzling and repeat until all the latkes are cooked. If adding oil between batches, make sure the oil is sizzling again before cooking.

Challah Fritters with Sweet Tahini Sauce

Makes about 40 fritters

  • 1-lb. loaf of plain challah
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup milk or unsweetened, unflavored nondairy milk
  • 1½ cups mashed ripe bananas
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. ground nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • Confectioners’ sugar or cinnamon sugar, optional
  • Tahini sauce (see below)
  • Homemade or purchased chocolate sauce, warmed, optional

Shred the challah into ¼-inch pieces. In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, milk, mashed bananas, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and vanilla. Add the shredded challah and stir until well combined. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes. Stir well.

Using wet hands, roll about 1 Tbs. of batter into a ball. Press it down firmly and roll it again, squeezing to compact it into a firm ball about 1 inch in diameter. Place it on a plate. Repeat with the remaining batter. In a 12-inch wide, heavy pot, heat ½ inch of oil over high heat to 350 degrees. For best results, use a deep-fry or candy thermometer, but the oil is ready when a bit of fritter batter bubbles as soon as it is added to the pan. Line a large plate with paper towels.

Roll the fritters between your hands to make sure they are compact, then gently roll them off your hand and into the hot oil until you have 8 to 10 in the pot, being careful not to crowd the pan. Adjust the heat as needed to maintain the proper temperature and prevent burning, and cook until the bottoms of the fritters are dark golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip the fritters with a slotted metal spoon or tongs and cook until the other side is browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer the fritters to the prepared plate using tongs or slotted spoon. Add oil to pan as needed and be sure to return the oil to the proper temperature between batches. (If desired, keep the fritters warm in a 250-degree oven on an ungreased baking sheet.)

Sprinkle the fritters with confectioners’ sugar (if using) and serve with the sweet tahini sauce and warmed chocolate sauce (if using), on the side for dipping.

Challah fritters from "52 Shabbats." (Photo/Clara Rice)
Challah fritters from “52 Shabbats.” (Photo/Clara Rice)

Tahini sauce: Mix together ½ cup tahini, ¼ cup cold water, 2 Tbs. lemon juice, ⅛ tsp. salt and 3 Tbs. agave syrup until very smooth (the mixture will seize up but loosen as you continue to stir). Add additional water, 1 Tbs. at a time, until the sauce is still thick but can be poured. Taste. Add more agave syrup if desired. Transfer to a serving dish and drizzle with 2 tsp. silan (date syrup, optional).

Variation: Jam-filled challah doughnut holes can be made by omitting the bananas, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and vanilla. Instead, stir in 1 cup seedless fruit preserves or jam and proceed with the recipe instructions. Serve sprinkled with confectioners’ sugar and doused with warmed chocolate sauce.

Faith Kramer
Faith Kramer

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer and the author of “52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen.” Her website is faithkramer.com. Contact her at [email protected].