Chana Bracha Siegelbaum has just published a new book called The Seven Fruits of the Land of Israel (Menorah-Books). The Torah singles out seven fruits (olives, dates and much more!) which grow in Israel for special mention. These foods thus have a special status in Jewish law and tradition. and Chana Bracha has created a guide which focuses on these specific species in a big way. Yes, it is a a cookbook, but it also is filled with nutritional and spiritual information about all the fruits and recipes. Rebbetzin Siegelbaum has gathered into one book what seems to be anything that can be learned about each of these fruits. The book also includes art and photographs which make the book look and feel more like a treasury of information rather than “only” a cookbook. Rebbetzin Siegelbaum is a super busy educator, director of a well known women’s seminary (B’erot Bat Ayin) and currently planning a speaking tour to the USA as well as preparing for family visits from Denmark so I appreciate that she made time to participate in 8 for 8 in honor of Chanukah 2014 as we meet a different cookbook author each day of the holiday.
What stands out for you about celebrating Chanukah as you grew up? Any special food memories?
I grew up in Denmark in a very assimilated home, but I do remember the Chanukah candles that we lit that stands out in my mind. We definitely didn’t have sufganiot, but we did have something like wafers that we made on a special wafer pan, they were like pancakes but they weren’t just for Chanukah. Perhaps we did have latkes with apple sauce and of course I especially liked the applesauce.
How has your Chanukah changed since you moved to Israel?
Chanukah has become much more meaningful since moving to Israel and becoming Torah observant. The belief in miracles and in how Hashem runs the world is a central part of my life now. However, the light of Chanukah in exile, in the dark Denmark was special because it was a light within a darker darkness, the darkness of assimilation. It was the light the kept the Jewish flame alive within all the darkness of the values of the Western world which are often so foreign or opposed to Jewish values.
What do you do during Chanukah to create a memorable holiday atmosphere for your family?
I bought my husband a very special Chanukiah (menorah), which we light at the entrance of our home with real olive oil.
The olive tree, which is the first tree recorded after the destruction of the flood, is the fruit of redemption. Its foliage is evergreen and its oil lights eternally, even during exile through the holy menorah of Chanukah. The bitterness of the olive alludes to a higher realm beyond what can be revealed as sweet in this world. When Hashem created Original Light, He saw that it was too good to be revealed for the people of this world. Therefore, He hid it away for the righteous in the World to Come. We can get a glimpse of this hidden light (Ohr Haganuz) every year on Chanukah, when we light the Chanukiah, the Chanukah lamp. After the destruction of both Temples, only the Chanukah lights, representing the flames of olive oil burning in the holy Menorah, accompany us throughout our spiritual darkness and light the way to redemption.
Are you eating different foods for Chanukah now than you did in the past? What are they?
I make latkes for my family but I minimize eating them myself as fried food is not so healthy. I also make a healthier version of the latkes by baking them rather than frying. I like to include other vegetables in the latkes such as zucchini, and carrots. We also eat milk products on Chanukah to commemorate Yehudit, the heroine of the Chanukah Story who fed Holofernes the general of the king of Assyrian milk before killing him and thus causing the victory for the Jews.
What are the top food questions people ask you about for Chanukah? For other holidays?
People ask me how to stay healthy during Chanukah and I tell them about sugarless whole-wheat sufganiot with cream of dates, and baked sweet-potato latkes. In my book I shared my recipes for such desserts. The recipes are not typical Jewish foods recipes or holiday recipes. Rather, my style of cooking is more natural and nutritious. The desserts are sugarless and I include many salads and try to avoid fried food.
Latkes or sufganiot?
None of the above, thank you!
Quinoa with olive oil and za’atar or natural sea salt! That’s one of my favorite foods during the week and on Chanukah I may splurge more on the olive oil.
Which recipe would you like to share with us for Chanukah?
I’d like to share a simple dip which is based on olive oil and is something which can be used very often. After the recipe, I’ll share an excerpt from The Seven Fruits of the Land of Israel which speaks about olive oil, the Temple and Chanukah.
OLIVE OIL WITH ZA’ATAR (HYSSOP MIXTURE)
An easy dip to complement your bread and salads
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup za’atar mixture
Mix the olive oil and za’atar mixture well with a spoon and pour into
a nice glass jar, which you can keep on your dinner table, ready to
sprinkle over your whole wheat bread, grains and vegetables.
Instead of serving butter, fill a small condiment dish with extra virgin
olive oil and za’atar for use on grains, bread and potatoes, or drizzle
it over sauteed vegetables before serving.
Some thoughts on Chanukah: The Olive Oil in the Temple (excerpted from Seven Fruits of the Land of Israel)
It is interesting to note that the biblical lamp oil – the olive oil used for the Menorah in the Temple – had to be of the highest quality, even superior to today’s extra virgin olive oil. The Torah instructs the children of Israel “to bring clear olive oil beaten for light, to set up the lamp continually.” Rashi explains the word כּתִָית /katit – ‘beaten’ (used today to refer to virgin olive oil) as follows: “He pounds the olives in a mortar, but must not grind them in a mill, so that there may be no sediment.” He further explains the continued processing of olive oil: “After he has thus extracted the first drop of oil, he may bring the olives into the mill and grind them. The second oil [obtained by grinding] is unfit for use in the candelabrum but is permissible for meal offerings…” For this reason, even today, when lighting the Chanukiah, it is recommended to use the very best olive oil. Using the highest quality olive oil for the lights of Chanukah is a segulah (spiritual remedy) for begetting righteous children, as it states, “…your children [shall be] like olive plants round about your table.”Rabbanit Yamima Mizrachi further explains that although it is permissible to use any kind of oil for the Chanukah candelabra, the Chanukiah that we have today is in commemoration of the Menorah in the Temple, which used only the purest olive oil. Therefore, if we want all the spiritual remedies of the Menorah in the Temple – righteous children, good memory, wisdom, good vision, spiritual and physical health, it is important to use the very best quality olive oil for the Chanukah lights.