Chicago chefs offer serving suggestions for Thanksgiving Hanukkah dinners
Thanksgivukkah? Chanksgiving? As if there weren’t enough mishmosh already about the spelling of Hanukkah — or is it Chanukah? — this year we’ve got another thing to worry about. What is it? In case you haven’t looked at your calendar, bubeleh, I’ll tell you: On Nov. 28, that all-American holiday, Thanksgiving, falls on the first day of the eight-day Jewish festival Hanukkah, a once-in-a-lifetime meetup of the fourth Thursday in November on the U.S. calendar and the 25th day of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar.
The last time they overlapped was in 1888 and, the eggheads tell us, it won’t happen again till 76695. (Hanukkah moves around a lot, on account of the Jewish calendar being semi-looney, er, lunar.)
Nu , you should live and be well, but you aren’t going to live so long as that. So your one big chance to meld these two festivals of religious freedom comes now: Honor the brave band of Jewish fighters who battled oppression in their homeland in the second century B.C. alongside the brave band of pilgrims who fled oppression across an ocean to a new homeland in 1621.
What else do they have in common? We eat!
We asked local chefs and restaurateurs to weigh in on how to mix the two traditions on your plate.
Considering how long until the next time, one night of Thanksgivukkah isn’t enough for Chef Cleetus Friedman of Fountainhead (1970 W. Montrose), who fantasizes eight nights of turkey: Latke-stuffed turkey to start things off the first night of Hanukkah (Thanksgiving Eve, since Jewish days begin at sunset), followed on the big day by carved whole turkey stuffed with seasonal root vegetables, and then using up the leftovers on the next six nights with ground turkey liver on pumpernickel toast, turkey matzo ball soup, turkey salad on challah, fried matzo with turkey and cranberry sauce, roasted-turkey hopple popple (an egg dish typically made with all-beef salami) and, finally, “The Menorah,” a Thanksgivukkah answer to the jibarito — two potato latkes sandwiching sliced turkey, cranberry sauce, gravy and cole slaw.
“It is so funny,” says Natalie Levine, marketing director for Mercadito (108 W. Kinzie) and Little Market Brasserie (10 E. Delaware), who plans a holiday feast at home feting three traditions: American, Jewish and those of her native Mexico. “I grew up in Mexico City, and I’m Jewish, so it’s already unusual.”
With the help of the restaurants’ chefs, she’s putting together a multicultural menu, centering on chipotle-braised turkey with savory “stuffing” kugel. (An Ashkenazi side-dish casserole, kugel can be made from just about anything, but stuffing is a little unusual.)
Fried foods form a particular custom of Hanukkah, symbolizing a miraculously replenished oil lamp, hence the American-Jewish potato pancakes called latkes and the Israeli jelly doughnuts dubbed sufganiyot. Levine’s sufganiyot will have cream-cheese-pumpkin-maple filling and a dusting of coconut sugar.
“I am all over Thanksgivukkah!” says Laura Frankel, executive chef of Spertus Kosher Catering (610 S. Michigan). “I am doing the holiday from a American Jewish point of view versus a Jewish American point. I am a patriotic American who loves the country that allows me to celebrate my religious holidays to the fullest. Therefore, I am doing Thanksgiving food with a Hanukkah twist.”
Whichever comes first, Frankel also goes for pumpkin sufganiyot, filled with cranberry-apple jelly, finishing up a meal of turkey schnitzels and sweet-potato latkes.
Chef Tim Graham at Travelle (330 N. Wabash) suggests green bean casserole with lavash and gets in the Hanukkah oil with cheese and sage beignets.
Chef Steve Chiappetti at J. Rocco Italian Table & Bar (749 N. Clark) came up with menu ideas by tweaking the repertoire of his mother-in-law, Sandi Rosenberg, stuffing citrus-glazed turkey with challah, walnuts and raisins with such accompaniments as noodle kugel; braised brisket popovers; tzimmes — a stew of sweet potato, parsnips and prunes; potato and sweet-potato latkes with cranberry-apple sauce, and cranberry-filled sufganiyot. He isn’t serving any of them on Thanksgiving, but the last three dishes will keep the Chanksgiving feeling going as specials from Nov. 29, through Dec. 1.