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Feta Cheese on Chanukah

May 8, 2009 | by Rivka Moshayev

Celebrate the Chanukah miracle with a different edible twist.

Everyone who plans a Chanukah party knows to serve the hallmark donuts and potato latkes – but wouldn't they be surprised to find out that feta cheese is just as apropos for the Chanukah celebrations!

Chanukah is notorious for the custom of eating fried foods to commemorate the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days instead of one. But few are familiar with another culinary custom of Chanukah -- eating cheese.

The story is told of the beautiful young widow, Yehudis, the daughter of the High Priest, Yochanan. She grew tired of the siege that her town was under by the Greeks and even more impatient with the Jewish men in charge who were scared to retaliate. She took matters into her own hands by sneaking out of the siege walls and using her beauty as her ticket into the tent of the Greek General, Helifornos. She then fed him salty goat cheeses to make him intensely thirsty and poured him generous amounts of old wine to quench his thirst. The effects of the cheese and wine sent the mighty general into a drunken slumber, giving Yehudis the opportunity to chop off his head with his very own sword. This spurred the beginning of the Jewish victory over the Greeks.

Now, every year as the Jewish people celebrate the renewal of the flames that burn on our windowsills and in our hearts, cheese is served at our family gatherings to remember this brave and righteous woman. We applaud this woman who had the courage to think beyond her surroundings and take initiative to begin something great. Her story reminds us that every one of us can be the catalyst for a Jewish victory, big or small.

Here are some great recipes using salty goat cheese that will probably send you looking for a nice bottle of wine to pair it with. Feta is recommended, but feel free to experiment with other kinds of goat cheese!

Tomato and Feta Cheese Fondue

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped shallots or green onions
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
  • 3 cups or one 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
  • 1 tablespoon each finely chopped parsley and basil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 to 10 ounces or 225 to 300 grams feta cheese

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over moderate heat and stir in the shallots and garlic.
Sauté until soft but not brown.
Add the tomatoes and wine and simmer uncovered for 5 to 10 minutes until the mixture reduces to sauce consistency.
Stir in zest, parsley and basil and season with salt and pepper.
Pour the mixture into an attractive 6-cup ovenproof baking/serving dish and place cheese in the middle of the sauce.
Bake in a preheated 325 degree Fahrenheit or 170 degrees Celsius oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until the cheese is melted.
Serve immediately with crusty French bread or toast, which you can use to dip and scoop up the cheesy mixture.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Red Cabbage and Feta Salad

  • 1 small head red cabbage
  • 1 cup (about 4 ounces) crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/2 cup pecans, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup vinegar (balsamic gives a nice flavor)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Slice cabbage into thin short shreds. Do not grate.
Add crumbled feta cheese and pecans. Set aside.
Place oil, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper in a small container and shake till well combined. Pour over cabbage and toss.
Makes 6 to 8 servings

Pasta Salad with Roasted Vegetables and Feta

  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2 inch strips
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 medium eggplant, cut in 1/2 inch cubes
  • 3 small zucchinis, cut in 1/4 inch slices
  • 1 1/2 ounces or 45 grams sun-dried tomatoes, soaked in 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar, preferably balsamic
  • 2 tablespoons crushed garlic
  • 4 ounces or 115 grams crumbled feta cheese
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 12 ounces or 350 grams bowtie pasta
  • 1/3 cup black olive rings
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit or 230 degrees Celsius.
Line a cookie sheet with tin foil and grease or line with baking paper.
In a medium bowl combine all the vegetables, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, salt and pepper and toss to coat. Spread onto the lined cookie sheet.
Bake for 25 minutes, tossing occasionally, until browned.
Meanwhile, in a large pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta and then rinse under cold water and drain.
Drain the softened tomatoes, reserving the water.
In a large bowl, combine pasta, olives, basil, sun-dried tomatoes, and vegetables. Add remaining 4 tablespoons of olive oil, reserved water from tomatoes, garlic, vinegar and feta cheese; toss to coat.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve room temperature or chilled.

Makes 5 to 7 servings.


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