Recipes for a Mexican-inspired Hanukkah

Jewish tradition meets Latin flavors in these fun, authentic recipes for Hanukkah. Lighting the menorahLighting the menorah

For food writer and blogger Susan Schmidt, Hanukkah means lit menorahs, happy Yiddish songs and scrumptious potato latkes- but with a twist. Her menorahs adorn a traditional Latin home, the holiday tunes are carried in Spanish and spicy hot latkes are served with a schmeer of refried beans. That's how the creator of Challa-peño, a site following Schmidt's journey into writing a Mexican-Jewish cookbook, has been celebrating Hanukkah all her life: in a distinctively Jewish way, but with a decidedly Mexican flavor infusing the celebration.

Schmidt, whose Eastern European Jewish parents immigrated to Mexico in the 1920's, was born in Mexico City. As time passed, the family's Jewish heritage began to mix with their new country's Latin influences of cuisine and language. Today at the Schmidt's Los Angeles home, Hanukkah is a merge of two cuisines and two cultures. "We set up a table in front of a window, and each child has his own menorah to light up," says the cooking expert, whose family enjoys typical holiday fun like gift exchanges, playing with dreidels and singing.

Her table (which she always keeps kosher) usually features her spicy Fiesta Latkes, which Schmidt says you can use as a "sope" to slather with her kosher refried beans, guacamole or Crema Mexicana (a type of sour cream). She also serves parr fish or salmon with Crema Mexicana, and a nice flan with some hot, crispy churros for dessert.

Whether it's Hanukkah, Passover or even a Friday night Shabbat meal, for Schmidt it's all about sharing those special moments with loved ones: "It's the blessing of family, being together."

Give your Hanukkah celebration (or any other holiday festivities) a Latin twist this year with some of the Challa-peño blogger's favorite recipes:

Fiesta Potato LatkesFiesta LatkesFiesta Latkes
(Makes about 20 latkes)

3 russet potatoes
1 carrot
1 zucchini
1 onion
1 Serrano chili pepper, finely minced
1 garlic clove, mashed
1/3 cup parsley
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup corn flour (wheat flour or matzo meal are OK too)
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 eggs
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves (optional)
Canola oil as needed for frying the latkes

Blanch the potatoes and carrot in boiling water for 3 minutes; remove from water, and allow potatoes to cool. Once cool, peel the potatoes and carrot, and shred them in a food processor along with the zucchini and onion. Transfer mixture to a medium-size mixing bowl.

Add the rest of the ingredients, mix well and allow the mixture to sit for 10 minutes.

Pour about 1/4 cup of canola oil into a frying pan and heat well. Take about 1/4 cup measurements of mixture and place one by one in the hot oil, flattening out each latke with the back of a spatula. It will take about 5 minutes for the latkes to brown, then turn them over and brown them on the opposite side. As each latke is ready, remove it to a baking pan lined with paper towels to absorb excess oil.

Serve the latkes while still warm. They may be accompanied with applesauce and/or sour cream. We accompanied them with jalapeño jelly from the farmers market and Crema Mexicana, a delicious Mexican-style cream.Refried BeansRefried Beans

Refried Beans
A perfect accompaniment to the Fiesta Latkes.

1 lb. package dry black beans
1 onion quartered
2 large garlic cloves whole
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup canola oil
2 onions chopped

Inspect the beans for any small stones or other particles and remove. Place the beans in a strainer and rinse thoroughly with cool water. Then pour them into a bowl, and let them soak for 2 hours.

Pour the beans into a pot, add the quartered onion and garlic cloves and cover with water. Bring the beans to a boil, then simmer rapidly at medium-high heat for about one hour or until they are softened. It is IMPORTANT that you add water every so often until the beans are cooked. You want to end up with plenty of bean broth. When the beans are very tender and edible, stir in salt and allow to simmer 10 more minutes.

Place canola oil in a large frying pan and heat well. Add the chopped onions, stirring them constantly allowing them to become a very deep, golden brown.

Using a slotted spoon, add the beans to the onions and begin mashing, slowly adding the bean broth while mashing. Add more broth as it evaporates; it is up to you how dry you want your beans. When I am serving them as an appetizer with chips, I allow the broth to evaporate to the point where they become almost a paste. If I am serving them as a side dish, I leave them a bit moist.

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