There is a tradition of eating dairy meals to celebrate Hanukkah. How did this custom come about? During Hanukkah, we honor Judith, a brave heroine whose name means, “Praised” or “Jewess” in Hebrew. During the Assyrian siege of Judah, 500 years before the time of the Maccabbees, she used beauty, wit, cheese, and wine to fight for her right to be a free Jewish woman in Jerusalem. Judith inspired the Maccabees to fight the Seleucids until they achieved victory. We honor her by preparing seductive dairy delicacies for our Hanukkah feasts.
Judith was a beautiful, young widow who lived in the fictional village of Bethulia (thought to symbolize Jerusalem). The Assyrian general Holofernes besieged her town. He succeeded in cutting off the water supply to Bethulia’s inhabitants. Judith went to visit Holofernes in the Assyrian camp, bearing gifts of wine and cheese. Holofernes overindulged to the point of inebriation. Judith took advantage of his weakness, and decapitated him with his own sword. In a shrewd bit of psychological warfare, she carried his head around the Assyrian camp. His soldiers, terrified and bereft of their leader, fled.
More after the jump.
We honor Judith’s bravery with the tradition of eating dairy meals during Hanukkah. The type of milk available to her in Ancient Israel came from sheep and goats. This Hanukkah, we can celebrate with a traditional Mediterranean shepherd’s dish: pastries filled with goat’s or sheep’s milk cheese, fried in golden olive oil, and sweetened with wildflower honey.
Hanukkah Seadas: Sardinian Cheese Fritters
Adapted from Academia Barilla
- 1 pound semolina flour
- 1 cup of water
- 3 eggs
- 5 tablespoons of butter
- Salt to taste
- Sheep or goat’s milk cheese (Ricotta works especially well)
- Olive oil
- Wildflower honey from the Jerusalem Mountains
- Knead together the flour, water, eggs, butter, and salt to form a dough.
- Roll the dough into a ball, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- After half an hour, roll the dough out with a rolling pin.
- Use a glass to cut out circles of dough.
- Fill each circle with cheese.
- Fold the circle in half.
- Pinch the edges together to close it.
- Heat some olive oil in a pan.
- Place the pastries in the oil over medium heat.
- Turn the pastries over when they are golden brown.
- Drain on paper towels.
- Serve hot, with a drizzle of wildflower honey.