Oh Hanukkah or Chanukah—Either Way, it’s Time for the Unlikely Latke


Whether you celebrate one or the other, we all love the traditional fried foods that are associated with this Festival of Lights.  Holidays are an opportunity to maintain traditions, but also to renew or mix traditions.  This Hanukkah, I bring you dainties: the biblical lentil pancakes.  By their name only —love cakes— they would be more appropriate for Valentine’s Day or, its Jewish-Israeli equivalent, Tu (15) B’Av. Their ingredients definitely make them a wholesome and, some would say, healthier alternative to the other fried concoctions with which we celebrate Hanukkah. Their flavor and texture makes them simply delicious. These pancakes are for the health conscious foodies, as well as the more discriminating palates among us. They are so easy to make and, with a minor adjustment, they can be gluten free.

 "Stay ye me with dainties, refresh me with apples; for I am love-sick,” sings the love-stricken in Song of Songs 2:5.  How do we know what dainties were made of, what they looked like, or what was their taste in ancient times?  Like archeologists, who put together mosaics from bits and pieces from the past, Israeli chefs and researchers, such as Moshe Basson of Jerusalem’s Eucalyptus and Tova Dickstien of Neot Kedumim, revive food traditions by reconstructing biblical recipes from discussions in the Talmud and other old Jewish texts. 

Dainties is the English word for the biblical ‘ashishot,’ mentioned in Song of Songs.  The biblical dainty is unlike dainty recipes you would find in the U.S. today, which are mostly made with butter, flour, sugar and some nuts or fruit. From ‘ambrosial’ and ‘scrumptious’ to ‘delectable’ and ‘savory,’ the English synonyms for the word ‘dainty’ seem too varied. Today we refer to food as savory when it is full of flavor, tastes pungent, and lacks sweetness.   This could indicate that dainties originally were not necessarily very sweet.  The English name could have been more a description of the confection’s delicate structure.  Dainties must be handled with care, as they can easily come apart.  This would be especially true about the biblical lentil version as well.

The biblical Hebrew name, though, comes from a root that means to recover or to restore.  Much like a tira mi su— it is a ‘pick me up’ delicacy.  The tira mi su’s espresso essence and generous amounts of sugar restore energy. There are several versions of the biblical dainty. What I offer here is my adaptation of a recipe that is probably one of many reincarnated from Tova Dickstien’s recipe.  It includes lentils, eggs, flour, and onion.  You could brush it with honey after it’s cooked. The honey will energize you; complex carbs, the lentils will sustain this energy over a longer period of time.  Eat it with applesauce and you get the biblical prescription for the lovesick.  You don’t have to give up the beloved potato latke.  After all, there are 8 days to Hanukkah.

Dainty’s other synonyms are ‘picky’ and ‘fussy.’  What is it then, Hanukkah or Chanukah?  Like many Yemenite Jews, my pronunciation of ‘H’ is more guttural, closer to the biblical sound.  Influenced by European languages, the ‘ch’ in Chanukah is pronounced like ‘kh,’ the throat-clearing sound in German or Scottish. I say Hanukkah, you say Chanukah; let’s not be too dainty about it!

Lentil Dainty


1 cup green lentils  (200g)

2 cups water

1 tsp. salt

2 small onion, thinly sliced in 1” strips

2 tbsp. olive oil, or your preferred vegetable oil

2 large eggs

2 Tbsp. flour, or, for gluten free, substitute potato starch or other gluten free flour mix

1/8 tsp. cinnamon


1. Place lentil in a small pot.  Add 2 cups of cold water and bring to a boil.  Lower flame and let simmer partially covered.  When about one half of the water is absorbed, stir in 1 tsp. of salt.  Continue to cook until all liquids are absorbed.  

2. Heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a sauté pan and sauté sliced onion until lightly caramelized.  

3. Cooking will just about triple volume of lentils and will yield approximately 3 cups of lentils.  Measure one half of lentils and process in food processor with two eggs.

4. In a medium bowl, stir 2 Tbsp. flour and 1/8 tsp. of cinnamon to combine.  Add lentils, mashed lentils, caramelized onions and mix well to combine.  At this point, you can keep covered in refrigerator.  Cook within 24 hours.  

5. Heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a sauté pan.  Drop mixture by the spoonfuls and flatten with back of spoon.   Sauté for 2-3 min. on each side, until golden.  Serve warm

Makes about 16.

Serving suggestions:

·      *Drizzle with honey thinned out with a bit of water, or maple syrup.

*Serve with applesauce, sweet lemon yogurt, or onion jam.

May Love and Light dwell in you all year round!

Inspire and be inspired.

©2011 by Tribes-a-Dozen

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