Thursday, December 29, 2016

Light Six Candles

The eve of December 24th not only marked ubiquitous Christmas observances, but also the commencement of the eight-day Jewish holiday of Chanukah. It is not a particularly important holiday, augmented and shaped into its contemporary form to align with holiday celebrations around Christmas and New Years. But the holiday itself commemorates two events that seem to still have particular relevance in this day and age. 

First of all, Chanukah is about a battle victory. While postured as another tale of the underdog overcoming oppression against all odds, it actually recounts the rebellion of a moderate fanatic group of Jews - the Maccabees - against assimilation into the growing Hellenic civilization during the second century BCE. On the one hand the holiday celebrates the survival of The Temple (for another couple hundred years, that is) and associated religious observances, while on the other hand it is shrouded in violence and bloodshed. Some historians suggest this takeover of power led to corruption, which ultimately resulted in the rise in Roman rule in Jerusalem.

But we don't learn about that in Hebrew school. Instead, we learn about the second more mythological rationale for celebrating Chanukah. As the midrash goes, after battle the Maccabees confronted a sad state of affairs in the Temple. The supply of oil for the eternal lamp was enough to last only one day, and yet it kept the flame fed for eight. A miracle! As such, we observe the holiday by lighting candles for eight nights, eating potato pancakes (latkes) and jelly donuts (sufganiyot) fried in oil, and playing tops with the acronym נס גדול היה שם (a great miracle happened there).

While not a fight for oil itself (more like religious ideology and political power), it is interesting to me the juxtaposition between conflict and fuel, which is an issue of great concern even today. In Indonesia, oil palm plantations are expanding with a vengeance, set to double in output in the next decade. But this influx of large, often international companies has instigated a growing number of conflicts with local communities, where the underdog is still losing out to the seductive powers of money and influence.

A bit closer to home for many of us, this last quarter has drawn attention to the ongoing struggle of Native Americans on their traditional lands. Protests around plans for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) to transverse sacred sites and important waterways now include not only members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, but other activists and military veterans. This show of solidarity has so far yielded some success in battle, but the war won't so easily be won with such a corrupting force as this liquid gold.

So while frying up some sweets and savouries in a more innocuous oil, perhaps dedicate some thought to our contemporary conflicts over oil (in its many forms), religion, and power. There are more than enough to last you eight nights.

Sourdough Sufganiyot (modified from Chef in Disguise)
1/2 cup happy sourdough starter (I fed my 200% hydrated plain flour in prep)
2 tbs coconut oil, melted
1/3 cup coconut milk
1 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
2 cups plain flour
1 tbs chickpea flour/besan
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

2/3 -1 cup smooth jam
~500ml vegetable oil for frying

  1. Start by sifting the flours, baking soda, and salt together. Add in the sugar.
  2. In a separate container, mix starter, oil, milk, and extract together. 
  3. Combine all ingredients and then gently knead until they are integrated well. Pack away in a tupperware and stick in the fridge overnight. If you want to fry them up on the day, let them sit for a couple of hours covered. Similarly, take the dough out of the refrigerator a couple of hours before you want to start frying.
  4. Roll out dough to a thickness of about 2cm. Use a round cookie cutter (or an empty can, for instance) to cut out circles of dough. Allow to rest on parchment for about 15 minutes. 
  5. Meanwhile, heat oil a few centimeters deep over medium-high heat (I used a wok, which worked well). You know it's ready by placing a small piece of dough in and seeing when it begins to become active and float. Prepare a tray lined with paper towel or clean newspaper to drain.
  6. Dunk a few dough rounds in the oil, using a slotted spoon to to flip over when the underbelly starts to become golden. Then fish out and place on the paper. When it's slightly cool, coat lightly in cinnamon sugar. 
  7. Fill a pastry bag (or ziplock) sporting a decorating tip with the jam. When the donut has cooled, puncture with a chopstick about halfway through, then pipe in the jam. Now you're ready to serve!
More Chanukah Oil:
The Hannukah Story - New York Times 2009

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