Centuries ago, Iraqi Jews adopted funnel cakes, the crispy golden coils and squiggles of deep fried dough known in the Middle East as zengoula (or jalabi), to celebrate the miracle of Hanukkah: that enough oil to light the menorah in the temple in Jerusalem for a single night lasted, instead, for 8 days.
This is the reason we light candles on Hanukkah for eight days and have permission to eat as many delicious latkes, doughnuts, and other foods fried in oil as we like!
For weeks, I’ve been cooking from one of the best new books this year, The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen, by the gifted cook and writer (and my dear friend) Amelia Saltsman. Amelia is a native Californian whose Iraqi father and Romanian mother met and married in Israel before immigrating to Los Angeles. She's captured a world of Jewish food through the lens of her diverse family traditions and her own intuitive cooking style, and the result is food that we want to eat now—fresh and modern yet somehow still authentic and comforting.
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Zengoula with Lemon Syrup is a great example of a traditional dish with a little twist that makes a big difference. Instead of plain sugar syrup, the pastries are soaked in fresh lemon syrup. The results are easy to imagine: more fragrant and wonderful and, I have to say it, “zingier” zengoula.
You don’t have to leave your latkes or ditch your doughnuts. But do add these tempting lemon-drenched pastries to the eight-day Hanukkah lineup. (You may also enjoy saying the word “zengoula” as much as I do.)
My career was sparked by a single bite of a chocolate truffle, made by my Paris landlady in 1972. I returned home to open this country’s first chocolate bakery and dessert shop, Cocolat, and I am often “blamed” for introducing chocolate truffles to America. Today I am the James Beard Foundation and IACP award-winning author of ten cookbooks, teach a chocolate dessert class on Craftsy.com, and work with some of the world’s best chocolate companies. In 2018, I won the IACP Award for Best Food-Focused Column (this one!).